Owners of seaside DeBourdieu colony can keep sandbags for research, according to DHEC board rules | News SC Climate and Environment

COLOMBIA – SC’s Ministry of Health and Environmental Control decided on the night of January 13 that the owners of DeBourdieu Colony could keep the sandbags they placed on an eroding beach without state permission. .

Bags have been on the sand in the gated community in Georgetown County, behind a degrading wooden partition, since the fall of 2020. The owners of four homes with the bags did not obtain emergency permits from DHEC for the To keep. These properties then became part of a research proposal by Professor Paul Gayes of Coastal Carolina University to study how sand dunes with bags filled inside would behave over time.

The council voted 3-2 to allow the research, provided it did not affect DHEC’s still-ongoing investigation into the legality of the sandbag placement. But the council also stipulated that at the end of this investigation, DHEC could not order the owners to remove the bags.

“This decision was not taken lightly. It affects the South Carolina coast,” said interim board chair Seema Shrivastava-Patel, who did not vote. “We also have confidence in our staff.”

The owners argued through three attorneys, including state senator Stephen Goldfinch, to keep the bags in place. The hope is that they will be covered as a beach restoration project will spit 650,000 cubic meters of reclaimed sand onto the beach this year.

This conflicts with existing national regulations, DHEC staff said, which specify that sandbags are only a temporary solution on the beach in an emergency and cannot be permanently installed and covered. sand.

The board eventually agreed with the owners’ legal team, who requested the hearing after staff rejected Gayes’ search proposal. However, the Board’s decision could now be appealed by an interested party to the SC Administrative Law Tribunal.

The Coastal Conservation League, which has been the ALC’s caller in many other similar cases, “is considering next steps,” said Emily Cedzo, who works on coastal policy for the group.

“I don’t know how it works to turn an application problem into a research project,” Cedzo said. “I don’t know if it’s been done before.”

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Gayes, who directs Coastal Carolina’s Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine and Wetland Studies, told the board that increasing disasters were putting pressure on beaches across the state and restoring Debidue Beach was not not guaranteed to last long. He said the sandbags now on the beach are a “vehicle of opportunity” to explore a new direction in beach management. (The community is “DeBourdieu Colony”, but the beach and island are spelled differently: “Debidue Beach” and “Debidue Island”.)

For years, beachfront property owners and state regulators have played cat-and-mouse over what can be placed on an eroding beach to prevent rising seas from assaulting nearby homes. Dykes and bulkheads are explicitly prohibited because ricocheting waves carry sand away from shore as they bounce off structures.

DHEC staff argued on January 13 that the effects of the sandbags were similar with Blair Williams, a permits officer in the agency’s coastal office, saying there was “little scientific knowledge to acquire” by the study. Gayes disputed this claim.

But in many cases, like the wooden wall that also sits on Debidue, the shielding was already in place before South Carolina’s levee ban was enacted decades ago.

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Has Debidue’s bulkhead replacement been a recurring issue, with potentially statewide implications. A special exception to allow the wall to be rebuilt was quietly added to a state bill in 2019 shortly before it was sent to Governor Henry McMaster, who ultimately rejected the bill, saying that the special community exception was inappropriate, and lawmakers upheld that veto. .

At the same time, South Carolina’s centerpiece, the Beachfront Management Act, has changed dramatically in recent years, with a 2018 revision that moved the state from a beach “retreat” policy to a policy of “preservation” of the beach.

This new policy direction emerged several times during the council hearing as Goldfinch, simultaneously citing the concerns of his senatorial district and advocating for the DeBourdieu owners, claimed that the DHEC had failed to produce new regulations. that would correspond to the intention of the legislators.

Williams argued the agency made changes to other coastal regulations after the 2018 review, including in the regulatory lines that determine where beachfront construction can take place.

Goldfinch later replied, “I don’t mean in any way to be complacent in saying this, but I do not appreciate having a staff member tell me what the legislative intent of the law was.”

Contact Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.

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