South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Legal Challenge Against Hilton Head Seawall Aims to Protect Public Beach
Posted: November 20, 2019

For immediate release

Litigation pursued over first new South Carolina seawall in 30 years, in a potentially precedent-setting case.

A complaint was filed on Friday, November 15 against the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and five beachfront property owners on Hilton Head who constructed a continuous seawall in front of their properties last year despite South Carolina’s longstanding prohibition on seawalls under the Coastal Zone Management Act.

The document was filed in the Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP) on behalf of plaintiffs Karen Wells, a Hilton Head property owner who lives in close proximity to the seawall, and the Coastal Conservation League.

The homeowners built their seawall without any of the required authorizations from DHEC, according to the complaint. Significantly, because the structure was built in the beach’s critical area, a Critical Area Permit was needed. The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration from the court that such a permit is required for this type of activity.

The disputed seawall is a 449-foot long by 40-foot deep steel wall located near Piping Plover Road. Other than the Folly Beach seawall, which is exempt from the state’s coastal management laws, the Hilton Head seawall was the first constructed in the state since the legislature banned seawalls in 1988.

“We are asking the court to declare that this seawall is unlawful,” said SCELP Staff Attorney Jessie White. “We learned a long time ago that seawalls are environmentally destructive and ultimately result in the loss of public beaches. Their location on our beaches is simply a bad idea for all South Carolinians.”

Research has repeatedly shown that seawalls obstruct the natural movement and transport of sand, exacerbate the impacts of erosion over time, causing harm to neighboring unprotected properties and deteriorating the public beach.

Media Contacts:

Jessie White, Esquire, Staff Attorney
South Carolina Environmental Law Project
[email protected] or (843) 527-0078

Rikki Parker, Esquire, South Coast Office Director & Legal Analyst
Coastal Conservation League
[email protected] or (803) 413-5008

The South Carolina Environmental Law Project protects 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

Hilton Head seawall during construction.