South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Why construction must stop on this nearly finished, private Sea Pines seawall
September 6th, 2018

By Katherine Kokal

The builders of a controversial seawall in Sea Pines should have gotten a permit from the state before erecting the barrier and now must stop construction, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said in a letter this week.

Even though the seawall is in place and nearly complete, DHEC may now solicit public comment on the structure. Opponents, including the Coastal Conservation League, hope enough people comment so that DHEC can hold a public hearing on the matter, said Rikki Parker, a league member.

Construction on the seawall, which sits between five homes on Piping Plover Road and the ocean, began in April. The $750,000 project was privately funded by homeowners who wanted to protect their properties in the wake of damages caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Tropical Storm Irma in 2017.

Opponents say the seawall will damage what is a public beach and worsen existing erosion problems.

Last month, Michael Corley, a South Carolina Environmental Law Project attorney, filed a demand letter to the Ocean and Coastal Management division of DHEC. That letter said the seawall is “in violation of the law” because the homeowners did not apply for two permits he said are required because the seawall will disrupt more than .5 acres of land and will “negatively affect the public beach” in Sea Pines.

Corley wrote that both a General Permit for Stormwater Discharges from Construction Activities and a Coastal Zone Consistency Certification were required for the project.

On Aug. 29, DHEC agreed.

The problem? The seawall is nearly done.

Homeowner Bert Ellis told the Island Packet last week that the wall was covered with sand and is in the final stages of completion and clean up. The construction process included burying a 450-foot wall outside the homes and pouring concrete over the top to stop erosion.

According to DHEC’s response, Carolina Dock and Marine— the Charleston-based builder on the project— and the homeowners now have five days to set up a meeting with the department’s manager of coastal stormwater permitting to discuss the seawall.

Corley said he doesn’t believe DHEC will approve the permits for the seawall.

“There’s no way this wall can possibly be certified...” Corley said, adding that DHEC has previously taken the position that seawalls are ineffective tools to control erosion.

Because the seawall is nearly complete, Parker said DHEC has fewer options to ensure permit compliance.

“This starts a process that we believe should have been involved in construction since day one,” Parker said of the possible hearing.

Neighbors have expressed concern over the seawall’s construction from the beginning — saying it may divert water and cause more erosion on surrounding properties. According to previous Island Packet reporting, the seawall falls in a combination of gray areas because it is too far inland to require approval from the state and too close to private property to be within the town of Hilton Head’s jurisdiction.

This gap in permitting procedures is one Parker said she and the league want to close so that no future private seawalls can be constructed on Hilton Head.

“Our goal is really to address the loophole that allowed it to be built in the first place,” Parker said. “At the very least, if [DHEC] denies these permits, they’re saying we don’t want these walls on our public beaches.”

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