CHARLESTON, S.C. — A committee of lawmakers, mayors, business people and others is revisiting South Carolina's beach management law amid concerns that uniform rules approved almost a quarter century ago may not be in the best interests of the entire coast.
"I think we have found it is difficult to come up with one set of rules that applies perfectly to each area," said Wes Jones, the chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shorefront Management.
He said rules for protecting the beaches at Myrtle Beach with its billions of dollars of investment may need to be different than those in less-populated areas such as Edisto Beach
The panel begins its review of the 1988 Beachfront Management Act at a meeting in Columbia on Tuesday.
"We're trying to save the beaches and at the same time protect private property rights," said Jones, of Hilton Head Island.
Among the issues the panel may consider in the coming months are increasing beachfront setbacks, requiring all local governments to set beach building lines and whether the state should buy beachfront land or easements.
South Carolina's landmark Beachfront Management Act was passed in 1988 after a similar committee decided stronger rules were needed to protect the state's beaches, the heart of what is now an $18 billion tourism industry.
Until the act was passed, beachfront property owners could literally build anywhere, as long as the structure was beyond the reach of the waves. There was concern at the time the shoreline would simply become a string of seawalls with no dry sand beach for the millions of tourists who visit each year.
The act inaugurated a retreat from the ocean, limiting development and, in general, the use of hard erosion structures like seawalls that can cause scouring that washes away beach sand.
No sooner had it passed than it was the target of a lawsuit that went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court. The justices ruled the state could not prevent building on the beachfront without providing compensation to property owners.
The first real test of the law was in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo smashed into the coast with its 135 mph winds causing $6 billion damage.
"After Hugo we saw houses go up that were bigger than those that were there before Hugo took them away. Some of them are probably closer to the ocean than is wise," Jones said.
The Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management in the Department of Health and Environmental Control has authority over beach management.
"DHEC is doing the best they can with the regulations that they have got," said Jones, who was on the South Carolina Coastal Council before it folded into DHEC in the 1990s.
The 16-member committee, which includes five state lawmakers, will review a technical report issued last year by another group, the Shoreline Change Advisory Committee. That panel reviewed both the state's beachfront laws and the latest data on beach change in making recommendations.
"It was clear we needed to take it a step further and get a more politically minded group of stakeholders to recommend ways we can improve and enhance the regulations," said Dan Burger, a DHEC spokesman.
Jones said the panel will take the work of the shoreline committee and see what may be workable as rules. The work could take more than a year.
"The benefit of having legislative members on the committee is they know what they are hearing from the constituents and they will be able to say this will fly and this won't," he said.