South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Hilton Head Seawall

For over 30 years since the Beachfront Management Act was enacted, South Carolina law, policies and practice have embodied a prohibition on new seawalls. The General Assembly declared that the use of armoring our shoreline through hard erosion control structures like seawalls has been ineffective and given beachfront owners a false sense of security.

In addition, scientific data shows that seawalls increase the vulnerability of beachfront property to damage, while also resulting in the loss of the public beach through exacerbated erosion from wave energy bouncing off the wall and by depriving sand replenishment as the shoreline migrates.

Our state policy is to protect, preserve, restore and enhance the beach/dune system as well as public access to and full enjoyment of these resources.

And yet, during the summer of 2018, a group of five beachfront property owners on Hilton Head banded together to build a 449-foot long by 40-foot deep seawall on the beach in front of their properties. And they did so without obtaining any permit or authorization.

On November 15, 2019, on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League and Karen Wells, a property owner adjacent to the seawall, we filed a complaint in the Beaufort County Circuit Court against DHEC and the five beachfront property owners asking the court to declare that this seawall is unlawful.

As a significant construction project in the coastal zone, the landowners were required to obtain various land disturbance and coastal management program approvals from DHEC.

This structure was erected in “critical area,” which receives heightened protection, and should have been required to obtain an additional critical area permit from DHEC as well.

Our state learned a long time ago that seawalls are environmentally destructive and their location on our beaches is a bad idea for all South Carolinians.

Today’s management decisions will have a major impact on the health of our shoreline for this and future generations. If we allow seawalls to be erected anywhere on our beaches, we will lose valuable and cherished coastal resources forever.

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Hilton Head Seawall

Hilton Head Seawall