By Mimi Wood, The Island Eye News Staff Writer
Literally, a line in the sand. Actually two lines; jurisdictional lines, designed to preserve the beach and dune systems, while still maintaining land rights for coastal property owners. That’s the crux of the Beachfront Management Reform Act, signed into law by Governor Henry McMaster under a glorious blue sky, at the Isle of Palms County Park on Aug. 23.
In the interest of transparency, in many respects the impetus for the new law, the Governor actually signed HB 4683 four months ago, on May 3. The August 23 ceremonial signing afforded dignitaries from around the state the opportunity to come together, witness the bill being signed into law, and celebrate the unanimous passing of the bill by both the State House and State Senate. “This law is worthy of ceremony,” stated McMaster upon signing. “It represents a very important step forward for our coast, which is a treasure we need to preserve.”
The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is charged with evaluating, and potentially adjusting, two beachfront jurisdictional lines every seven to ten years. The first, known as the baseline, is the line closest to the ocean. The second, the setback line, is landward, minimally 20’ back from the baseline. Typically the land in between these lines is a ‘no-build’ zone.
Changes in the placement of these lines could potentially create a major disadvantage for coastal property owners; imagine purchasing a lot, then finding those lines have moved when you go to build. Your building envelope could be smaller, for example.
In Oct. 2017, DHEC, with little to no notice to landowners, posted the establishment of new lines that would take effect on Dec. 31, 2017.
Citizens wishing to appeal the proposed new lines had only until Nov. 6, 2017 to do so.
Furthermore, the data that was used to determine the new lines appeared to be skewed, and unscientific; some was obtained three days post-Hurricane Matthew, for instance.
Representative Lee Hewitt, District 108, was the first to notice the lack of transparency, lack of procedure, and lack of public notice with regard to the proposed new lines. Along with Senator “Chip” Campsen, District 43, they quickly alerted Governor Henry McMaster. The Governor’s office, along with the State House and Senate, worked with incredible efficiency and cooperation to rectify the situation, ultimately resulting in the law that was ceremonially signed on Aug. 23.
The BMRA protects landowners by setting down a transparent process for the establishment of the two jurisdictional lines.
The law also amends and simplifies the appeal process for citizens, HOA’s and municipalities. Additionally, it refines the definition of a ‘primary dune’, the crest of which determines the baseline. Finally, the new law addresses the use of post-storm survey data.
From an environmental standpoint, the BMRA establishes the baseline as recorded in 2012 as “permanent,” and thereby prohibits the seaward movement of that line. Consequently, even if accretion occurs, and the beach grows wider, it’s unlikely that building closer to the ocean will be permitted from here on out. This ensures protection for the beach and dune systems.
In highlighting the unanimous passing of the bill in both chambers of 170-member South Carolina General Assembly, IOP Mayor Jimmy Carroll declared, “This is a great thing not only for the Isle of Palms, but for the entirety of coastal South Carolina.” Hewitt added, “Any time you can get the League of Women Voters, the Coastal Conservation League and the Association of Realtors to all agree, you know you have a good law.”
Joining mayors from Mt. Pleasant, Folly, Edisto, and the former mayor of Pawley’s Island, Sullivan’s Island Mayor Pat O’Neil remarked, “It’s reassuring to see the state government working with coastal mayors to put together a rational approach to the establishment of these jurisdictional lines, which protect both the interests of property owners and conservation concerns.”
Former IOP Councilman Marty Bettelli perhaps summed it up best, grinning, “You know it’s a significant event when the locals are all wearing long pants.”