South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Hilton Head sea wall: stop-work order won't stop controversy
September 7th, 2018

HILTON HEAD, S.C. (AP) — A company building a sea wall on South Carolina's Hilton Head Island has been ordered to stop work and apply for building permits, but the construction is already essentially done.

The Post and Courier of Charleston reports that the August stop-work order has set off public hearings on the wall. The structure was built to protect five beachfront homes. But some nearby owners are concerned the wall will affect their properties in a major storm.

The newspaper says there are concerns that attempts to protect a beachfront property with a hard structure like a sea wall will over time exacerbate erosion on the seaward side.

Homeowners sought the wall after their section of the south end of Hilton Head Island was battered by tropical weather in 2016 and 2017.

The wall was built in a regulatory gray zone, out of reach for the town of Hilton Head and landward of the lines that the Department of Health and Environmental Control uses to regulate beachfront building.

It's estimated that as many as 292 other homes on Hilton Head might be able to take advantage of the same jurisdictional gap, though town officials dispute that number.

The project was challenged by the Coastal Conservation League and the S.C. Environmental Law Project, which sent a letter to DHEC on Aug. 10 asserting that the builders needed two different kinds of construction permits, which had not been granted by the state.

Michael Corley of the Environmental Law Project said he's optimistic that at least one of the permits will be denied by the state.

If that happens, it's not necessarily clear that the wall would be ripped out of the ground, but there is one recent precedent: a "wave dissipation system" on Isle of Palms, an experimental, partly porous sea wall, was ordered removed by a judge last year.

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