South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Beaches: Goldfinch will lead review of management act
July 26th, 2018

By Charles Swenson

A review of the state law that controls building along the beachfront will come up for review by the state legislature next year, said state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, who will lead an ad hoc committee to review the Beachfront Management Act.

Goldfinch said the initiative came out of a discussion with Sen. Paul Campbell of Goose Creek, who chairs the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, following the decision by property owners at DeBordieu to abandon their state permit to rebuild a seawall. The beachfront act doesn’t allow seawalls and the DeBordieu permit was issued after a proviso tailored to the project was included in the state budget by former Sen. Ray Cleary. Goldfinch followed his fellow Murrells Inlet Republican as the senator in District 34.

“We decided we need to move forward with a full overhaul,” Goldfinch said.

Campbell served on a Blue Ribbon Committee that recommended changes to the Beachfront Management Act in 2013. Some, but not all, were adopted by the legislature in 2016. Under the law, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control was required to establish new jurisdictional lines. The lines proposed last year, and the tight schedule for review, prompted the legislature to amend the law this year.

Along with retaining the existing jurisdictional lines until 2022, the legislature amended the policy of “retreat” from the beach in the face of erosion to “preservation” of the beach. That was one of the Blue Ribbon Committee recommendations.

“I don’t want to diminish what the Blue Ribbon Committee did. I think it’s time to have a second look,” Goldfinch said.

He wants to look at the way the state permits emergency work on the beach following storms. “We struggled and struggled and struggled with DHEC” during the past three years when hurricanes affected the coast, Goldfinch said. He wants to find a way to streamline emergency permits so work can begin immediately after the storm passes.

He also wants local government and homeowners associations to be able to use sand from tidal inlets for emergency beach renourishment.

“That could be really critical,” former Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis said. He also served on the Blue Ribbon Committee. The town has dredged sand from Pawleys Inlet in the past to rebuild dunes on the island’s south end. That wasn’t permitted during the recent storms.

Otis said he hasn’t focused on other changes to the beachfront act. Beyond the changes to the jurisdictional lines, “the biggest shift last year was from retreat to preservation,” he said.

That change was proposed by Goldfinch, something that concerns Amy Armstrong, head of the S.C. Environmental Law Project, which has represented groups challenging permits for work along the beach, including the DeBordieu seawall. “We have a senator who is intent on tearing down any environmental protection we have in the state,” she said.

Goldfinch said the ad hoc committee will take testimony from experts and come up with proposed changes to the law. A committee of legislators will give those proposals more traction than the ones that came from the Blue Ribbon Committee, Armstrong said.

“I have no confidence Sen. Goldfinch is going to do anything to improve the act,” she said, unless “by improvement you mean to allow people to buy and build in a risky place.”

Goldfinch said it is those he terms “environmental zealots” who are putting people at risk at a time when sea level is rising along with the population along the coast. “You can get permits to do everything you’re supposed to do and then a third-party environmental group pops up and says, ‘Naw, we’re going to oppose it,’ ” he said. Goldfinch is a lawyer, and he added, “in my world, when you file lawsuits just to try to obstruct something you’re going to be sanctioned.”

Goldfinch introduced an amendment to the Beachfront Management Act during the last session that would have allowed the rebuilding of seawalls if destroyed by a named storm. He said there was support from a majority of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, but Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Camden Democrat, threatened a filibuster.

“I decided to withdraw it,” Goldfinch said. “There’s no reason not to have that discussion with the next committee.”

The proviso that allowed the DeBordieu seawall to rebuild tied it to ongoing beach renourishment. Goldfinch said that would be his goal in any change allowing seawall repairs. “There are people with property being protected by these revetments. We’re not taking any of that into account,” he said.

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