South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

SCELP Board Member John Mark Dean's Letter to the Editor: Seawalls steal from the many to protect the few
May 14th, 2014

COLUMBIA, SC — The increase in sea level is well-documented and is well-known by all scientists, engineers, planners and agency staffs charged with implementing policies of the coastal zone. Sea walls and groins accelerate the erosion of the beach and narrow the area of dry-sand beach at high tide. This will remain true as long as the sun is in the sky.

The coastal waters and beaches of South Carolina are held in trust for the people of South Carolina, not a privileged few. A courageous Legislature with the broad vision of serving all the citizens passed a Coastal Zone Management Act in 1977 that served the state well. It was weakened in 1988, and legislation in the House will further erode the authority of the state to protect the public’s interests.

It is ridiculous that allowing the enhancement of a seawall at Debordieu that encroaches on the beaches is even being considered. When legislators do favors for a few of their constituents, they are not fulfilling their constitutional oath to represent the interests of all the people of our state. The result is bad law and bad economics.

Even more ridiculous is the legislative effort to exempt a portion of a single beachfront property. Don’t legislators understand that the neighbors without a seawall will suffer increased erosion of their property? If I had bought a lot on the interior of Debordieu because I knew I would not be at risk of beach erosion, I would be livid at the prospect of subsidizing those who made a bad decision. What about those constituents? This bill is the first step to a complete armoring of the beaches of South Carolina. Where is the common sense and courage?

Legislators have chosen to ignore solid studies and ridicule those trying to protect the interests of the public. Many grand houses have been built at the beach with full knowledge they were at risk. That risk will only increase with time.

Is it not absurd that those who want to take possession of the public’s resources are at the same time insuring their properties with a taxpayer-subsidized insurance program? If our legislators were consistent, they would reject federal flood insurance and insist that beachfront property owners pay for insurance at risk-based market rates. That would be a benefit to the taxpayers of South Carolina.

JOHN MARK DEAN Distinguished Professor Emeritus

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