South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

SC Gov. McMaster vetoes special legislation to replace sea wall protecting 17 homes
May 15th, 2019

By Chloe Johnson, Post & Courier

Gov. Henry McMaster has vetoed a bill that would have given a gated beach community special permission to rebuild a sea wall erected before the state banned them.

DeBordieu Colony, a wealthy enclave in Georgetown County, has tried several workarounds to re-construct a timber bulkhead built in 1982, but its efforts have been beat back by challenges from environmentalists.

The latest attempt came in the form of an 11th-hour amendment to a bill added the same day legislators sent the bill to the governor.

But the exception for a single neighborhood was “tantamount to enacting local or special legislation, prohibited by our constitution,” McMaster said in a letter to legislators announcing his veto.

McMaster disagreed with the site getting an exemption to beach regulations.

″(The) State has worked for several years to develop a comprehensive statutory and regulatory framework to protect our shared coastal resources,” he wrote. “I believe it would be unwise to hastily enact a special exception to the Beachfront Management Act.”

A representative for DeBordieu Colony could not be reached by phone Wednesday.

Amy Armstrong has challenged several efforts to rebuild on the island as the general counsel for the S.C. Environmental Law Project. The veto left her “almost speechless.”

“We’ve got a governor that is saying we're going to treat everybody fairly and equally under the law, we’re not giving special treatment to a small handful of people, we’re going to protect the public beach,” she said. “I think it’s a great day.”

Laura Cantral, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, encouraged lawmakers to sustain the veto of the bill and its “egregious” amendment.

“His decision upholds longstanding state policy, grounded in science and aimed at protecting our beaches,” she said.

Sea walls are banned because hard structures on beaches exacerbate erosion. As sea levels rise and fall, sandy beaches migrate, but if there’s a wall or other structure in the way, the sand will dissipate.

House Bill 3700, sponsored by Reps. William Bailey, R-North Myrtle Beach, and Lee Hewitt, R-Murrells Inlet, began as a compromise between coastal property owners and environmentalists.

It would have allowed the construction of “wing walls” across the state. The attachments to existing seawalls would stop the ocean from spilling around the sides and behind the barriers. Several sea walls predate South Carolina’s 1988 ban. The amendment to allow DeBordieu — alone — to replace the wall in front of approximately 17 homes was attached by Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens. He has said he saw no problem in allowing the neighborhood to use private funds to re-build the wall in the same place.

It’s unclear if the General Assembly will attempt to override McMaster’s veto.

State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, represents DeBordieu. He said there might be appetite to overturn the decision in the Senate. Last week, Goldfinch said he was unhappy with how the amendment was inserted into the bill but argued the current wall could give way in as little as six months.

“It certainly is a concern for the people behind the wall, and it certainly is a concern for the tax base (of) Georgetown County,” he told The Post and Courier on Wednesday.

Hiott said he “had no way of knowing” if the House might attempt to rebuke the decision, and declined further comment on the veto.

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