March 27, 2024

Conservation League seeks to intervene in Isle of Palms seawall case

The Coastal Conservation League announced today it has filed a motion to intervene in an action filed by the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (DHEC OCRM) against a beachfront property owner who knowingly violated state law by building an erosion control structure with non-beach compatible materials on the beachfront, blocking public access to the beach at high tide.

DHEC OCRM is seeking injunctive relief regarding the recent placement of these non-beach compatible materials and the seawall built within “critical area,”  on Isle of Palms. The Conservation League’s motion to intervene would grant it the ability to participate in the case and uphold the state’s ban on new seawalls.

“The Conservation League fully supports the legal arguments made by DHEC,” said Faith Rivers James, Executive Director of the Conservation League. “Through this request for intervention, we aim to validate the department in its efforts to remove this seawall from the beach.”

The legislature gave DHEC OCRM regulatory authority over critical area , which includes beaches as well as the beach and dune system, where construction relating to homes, pools, landscaping, and renourishment, among other things, is reviewed through a permitting process for compliance with state law. New construction or repairs to existing erosion control structures are allowed only under certain conditions and must be authorized by DHEC OCRM.

There are significant erosion concerns along Breach Inlet on Isle of Palms, and in 2023, DHEC provided guidance on this specific site. Despite DHEC’s guidance, the owner of the property pursued building this structure on the beach and has continued this work for months despite the department’s order to cease and desist construction.

In this case, non-beach compatible fill and other materials such as filter fabric, timber, geogrid, metal fencing, artificial turf grass, clay, gravel, rebar, concrete and rock have all been used to build the structure on the property, which juts out significantly onto the beach.

“This is an extremely concerning violation of a state law that was put in place to protect a well-established public trust resource—our beaches,” said Emily Cedzo, Director of Programs & Policy at the Conservation League. “DHEC is taking necessary action to prevent the loss of public access and protect our beaches from this type of activity in the future.”

This seawall limits public beach access, even making the beach completely impassable in front of the structure at high tide. Some of the materials used to build the structure have already become marine debris. Debris floating into the ocean can injure or kill marine wildlife, damage habitats, and threaten the quality of life of coastal communities.

"This is by far one of the most flagrant and egregious violations of the state's ban on new seawalls on our beaches,” said Amy Armstrong, Executive Director of South Carolina Environmental Law Project. “For over 30 years, since the legislature explicitly banned seawalls, the law has acted to protect the beach, which belongs to the people of South Carolina. These actions have taken that public resource and converted it to private use. This cannot stand."

The area where the structure currently sits was previously sandy oceanfront beach that was subject to regular inundation from the tides. All of the work to build this structure took place on beaches critical area, within the state’s jurisdiction. The work included excavating and operating heavy machinery to ultimately build an erosion control structure that was then covered with artificial turf and fill, fortified by metal screw piles, and later reinforced with rebar and concrete.

Because the construction of the erosion control structure continued despite repeated and clear attempts by DHEC to force the work to stop, the department was left with no option other than to pursue injunctive relief.

DHEC has requested a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to ask the Administrative Law Court to prohibit any continued work on the project within the critical area. DHEC has also requested a permanent injunction and an order to remove the wall and other non-beach-compatible materials from the beach.

Media Contacts:

Lily Abromeit, Coastal Conservation League

Amy Armstrong, South Carolina Environmental Law Project


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