South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

“Erosion stops” removal ordered; DHEC considers them harmful to sea turtles
July 13th, 2016

By Ashleigh Holland

When environmental groups served a 60 day notice threatening to sue the state after sea walls in Beaufort and Charleston counties were installed, DHEC (Department of Health and Environmental Control) ordered their removal. Siding with the Sierra Club and Wildlife Federation, DHEC believes the Wave Dissipation System (WDS) could be harmful to nesting sea turtles.

The WDS is an experiment out of The Citadel, to prevent waves from eroding beach front property on Harbor Island and Isle of Palms.

Turtle watch groups first discovered what they call ‘false crawls’, or turtle tracks leading up to the walls and appearing to turn around. Those groups snapped photos and contacted attorneys with the South Carolina Environmental Law Project.

“It led us to have a lot of concern, because if a sea turtle is inhibited from reaching- from nesting, then a couple of things can happen. One, it takes a lot of energy to climb up onto the beach,” Executive Director Attorney Amy Armstrong says, “and there are only so many times that a sea turtle will do that before they either just discharge their eggs into the water in which they will die or just reabsorb the eggs as energy.”

DHEC says there have been a total of four false crawls on Harbor Island. DHEC’s deadline for wall removal is July 28, which marks one year since they were installed.

When asked if there are consequences for not taking the walls down by the given deadline, DHEC Spokeswoman Cassandra Harris clarifies, “The WDS is a research study under an independently designed and academically sponsored pilot program by The Citadel, and The Citadel is responsible for the removal of the WDS systems. The study was established by the South Carolina Legislature in Budget Proviso 34.51 of the 2014-2015 General Appropriations Act (amended in 2015-2016 as Budget Proviso 34.48). We are currently in communications with The Citadel regarding the instructed removal of the systems by the July 28, 2016 deadline and will take appropriate action as necessary.”

Armstrong believes the WDS violates the Endagered Species Act. She says her office has received at least one complaint from a resident, concerned over erosion without the walls.

“Well, it’s controversial. I mean the people that are really advocates for the turtles see this as a very good thing. There are those people, and then there are those that actually own the property and don’t feel that way at all and understandably, they don’t feel that way because they’ve got a house or structure that’s threatened, located in a very high risk area that’s subject to the tides,” Armstrong says.

Source (external link)