Conservation Group Seeks State and Federal Relief Over Debidue Sandbag Wall
The Coastal Conservation League launched legal action following the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s decision to allow four DeBordieu Colony oceanfront property owners to permanently keep and bury a sandbag wall along Debidue Beach under the guise of research.
On Tuesday, the conservation organization filed an appeal of the DHEC Board’s decision with the South Carolina Administrative Law Court and issued a 60-day notice of intent to sue under the Endangered Species Act to DHEC, the property owners and Coastal Carolina University professor Paul Gayes, who plans to study the sandbag installation. In February, the Board issued an order granting experimental approval to the structure, overturning its staff’s decision to deny authorization for the research.
Among the objections detailed in the appeal, the order violates clear regulatory prohibitions against permanent sandbags, which are only allowed as temporary measures in emergency situations where existing structures are threatened. What’s more, the placement of the sandbags effectively has created a hard erosion control structure in contravention of the Beachfront Management Act.
“Burying illegally placed sandbags in the name of research represents nothing more than a dangerous attempt to skirt the law and chip away at longstanding coastal policies which will undoubtedly have major consequences for the rest of South Carolina’s beaches,” said, Emily Cedzo, the Conservation League’s Senior Director of Land, Water & Wildlife.
Further, according to the 60-day notice, the parties have violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to obtain an Incidental Take Permit prior to the placement of the sandbags and prior to DHEC’s approval to cover them with sand. Once the wall is covered with sand, it will almost certainly interfere with the nesting activities of endangered sea turtles, which is another violation of the ESA.
The notice indicates the Conservation League’s intent to bring an action in federal court seeking both an injunction against DHEC authorizations for similar installations on the beachfront and an order requiring the issuance of an Incidental Take Permit for the sandbag wall, or for the structure to be removed.
“The sandbags that were placed on the beach illegally are not new or unique and there is no scientific value in seeing what happens when they are covered with sand,” said attorney Leslie Lenhardt of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, a public interest law firm representing the Conservation League. "Further, the sandbags are illegal not only under state law but also federal law and we are seeking relief under both.”
The South Carolina Environmental Law Project is a nonprofit public interest law firm. We use our legal expertise to protect land, water and communities across South Carolina. Learn more at www.scelp.org
Since 1989, the Coastal Conservation League has worked to protect the health of the natural resources of the South Carolina coastal plain and ensure a high quality of life for all of the people who live in and love this special place. The Coastal Conservation League is a 501(c)3 charitable organization. Learn more and get involved at www.coastalconservationleague.org