South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Administrative Law Court denies request to proceed with groin construction on Debidue in Georgetown County
Posted: August 29, 2019

For immediate release

GEORGETOWN COUNTY, SC – The Administrative Law Court denied DeBordieu Colony Community Association’s request to lift the automatic stay, which would have enabled it to begin constructing three groins on Debidue Beach in Georgetown County.

The automatic stay is a safeguard that prevents construction activities that would impact the natural environment until an Administrative Law Judge can determine whether those activities are legally permissible.

You can read the full text of the ALC decision here.

The Coastal Conservation League and the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, which represents the Conservation League, hailed the Order. The Conservation League and SCELP have challenged a groin permit issued by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

In response to the Order, SCELP Executive Director Amy Armstrong said:

Citizens and communities deserve to know whether projects that would degrade and damage our natural resources meet all of the legal requirements before construction activities proceed, not after.

The decision affirms the importance of the Administrative Law Court to make that determination of a permit’s legality before construction occurs. In this case, we believe that the permit fails to meet the legal requirements and the groins should never be constructed.

Coastal Conservation League Executive Director Laura Cantral said:

The court’s decision is a testament to the importance of the automatic stay.

In 2018, we fought hard at the state legislature to protect the stay, a legal principle that protects the environment while citizens challenge government decisions that will forever damage their communities or natural resources. The court acknowledged that maintaining the stay in this case was in the public’s interest.

Constructing three massive groins on a stretch of fragile beach would absolutely cause irreparable harm — for downdrift beaches, for wildlife, and for one of the country’s last remaining pristine estuaries.

Up and down the coast and in Columbia, the Conservation League will continue to fight more attempts to meet climate change and sea level rise with hard structures that jeopardize the present and future health of our beaches.

For the ALC to deny the motion to lift the stay, the groups had to prove that groin construction would likely cause irreparable harm; that they are likely to succeed on the merits of the permit challenge; that the equities favor continuing the stay; and that the stay is in the public’s interest.

The ALC found that the Conservation League through SCELP had met each of these criteria, specifically noting that DeBordieu did not have the funds in place to remove the groins if they were constructed prior to trial and that DeBordieu could not proceed regardless in the absence of an Army Corps of Engineers permit. The ALC also identified flaws in DeBordieu’s erosion rate claims.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that groins are “probably the most misused and improperly designed of all coastal structures.” Groins work by capturing sand as it moves down the beach through longshore transport; however, by capturing sand and holding it in place, groins act to deprive the adjacent and downdrift beaches of sand.

The detrimental impacts of groins on adjacent and downdrift beach properties are well documented in scientific and regulatory literature. In 2013, after studying the effects of groins and shoreline armoring on the state’s beachfront, a DHEC Blue Ribbon Committee comprised of scientists, developers and elected officials recommended that no new groins be permitted. South Carolina law recognizes that groins interfere with natural sand transport and require special documentation that a project will not result in negative downdrift impacts before the issuance of any permit.

The South Carolina Environmental Law Project is a nonprofit public interest law firm, dedicated to the protection of the South Carolina's environment. Its mission is to protect the natural environment of South Carolina by providing legal services and advice to environmental organizations and concerned citizens and by improving the state’s system of environmental regulation.

The Coastal Conservation League is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the coastal resources of South Carolina. Its mission is to protect the state’s natural landscapes, abundant wildlife, clean water and quality of life. Since 1989, the Conservation League has carried out this mission by working with citizens, local government and the state legislature. Get involved at www.coastalconservationleague.org.

Media contact:

Amy E. Armstrong, Esquire, South Carolina Environmental Law Project, [email protected] or (843) 527-0078

Caitie Forde-Smith, Coastal Conservation League, [email protected] or (252) 714-4790

Google image of houses on Debidue Beach

Left to right: SCELP attorneys Leslie Lenhardt and Ben Cunningham, Belle W. Baruch Foundation attorney Thomas Gressette, Erin Pate of the Coastal Conservation League at the Administrative Law Court in Columbia