South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

SCELP Praises Removal of Illegally Constructed Litchfield Seawalls
Posted: April 17, 2019

Responsiveness from state regulators to unprecedented construction of 10 unlawful seawalls will preserve the health of our beaches, protect nesting sea turtles, and maintain public access.

For immediate release

GEORGETOWN, SC — The South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP) supports the recent directive of DHEC’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) that beachfront homeowners remove a string of harmful seawalls on Litchfield Beach.

The Beachfront Management Act of 1988 banned the construction of new seawalls on South Carolina’s beaches, as research has repeatedly shown that these structures lead to a loss of public beach. The structures obstruct the natural movement and transport of sand, harm neighboring properties, and actually exacerbate the impacts of erosion over time.

Despite the ban, a group of beachfront homeowners on Litchfield Beach nonetheless installed new seawalls without any authorization, passing off the walls as “landscaping” features. Some of these structures have apparently been in place for more than a year.

In January, SCELP attorneys were informed of these seawalls and reported their concern to OCRM. Shortly after SCELP reported to OCRM, the department directed the removal of at least 10 seawalls on the beach.

In one such directive, OCRM ordered a Norris Drive property owner to remove two unauthorized wooden and brick structures built seaward of the setback line and in the beach’s critical area.

“Structures like this, when located on an active beach, have the potential to interfere with nesting sea turtles and may result in other negative impacts to the beachfront,” the March 27, 2019 notice states. The removal directive stems from OCRM’s determination—which is obvious from visual inspection—that these structures are intended to function as seawalls and not for landscape retention.

The harmful nature of oceanfront walls are clearly stated on DHEC’s own website: “Erosion control structures represent the greatest threat to the preservation of the beach. On an erosional beach, seawalls and rock revetments may actually accelerate erosion, effectively destroying the beach. South Carolina applies a strict regulatory position where these structures are concerned. No new erosion control structures are allowed seaward of the setback line.”

In recent years, SCELP and our partners have fought to protect the public beach from shortsighted hard erosion control projects, including seawalls (Hilton Head, Harbor Island and Isle of Palms), groins (Debidue in 2011, and Debidue again), jetties (Folly Beach) and other stabilization structures along the state’s shoreline.

Although these barriers are designed to “protect” a small number of beachfront properties, hard armoring on the shoreline is actively speeding the destruction of public trust beaches and marine life. What’s more, in the face of rising sea levels, frequent floods and increasingly powerful storms, these hard barriers are short-term attempts to address the impacts of climate change.

“We are encouraged by OCRM’s continued commitment to maintaining the seawall ban, which is reflected in its recent move to tear down these poorly conceived structures on Litchfield Beach,” said SCELP staff attorney Michael Corley. “Until we, as a state, begin to consider more long-term and sustainable solutions, we are doomed to continue seeing these patchwork, short-term attempts to fight back the ocean.”

For more info: Amy Armstrong, Esquire, Executive Director South Carolina Environmental Law Project, [email protected] or (843) 527-0078