SEABROOK ISLAND, SC – On November 13, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League, filed a Request for Contested Case in the Administrative Law Court, asking for a decision allowing a sand scraping project to take place on Seabrook Island to be overturned. The request for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (DHEC OCRM) to overturn this decision addresses concerns related to long-term beach erosion challenges.
The beach on Seabrook Island has experienced erosion for years, and multiple short-term projects to combat erosion have taken place. However, sand scraping projects — disruptively excavating sand and transferring it — disturb beach habitat critical for multiple coastal birds.
In 2023, Seabrook Island Property Owners Association received approval for a permit for a sand scraping project, to periodically mine sand from the beach between central Seabrook Island and Captain Sams Inlet and transfer the sand further south near Seabrook Island Beach Club. This permit would allow up to 25 acres of beach to be excavated and transferred.
When the Property Owners Association sought approval for a nearly identical project in 2008, both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources objected because of these harmful impacts, and that request was denied. The current project is a short-sighted, short-term solution to address long-term beach erosion challenges. Sand scraping is an engineering technique that differs from beach renourishment because no new sediment is introduced. Instead, sand is taken from one part of the beach via truck and redistributed within the dune system.
“We know that sand scraping, or sand transferring and excavation, is not a long-term solution to beach erosion challenges,” said Emily Cedzo, Director of Conservation Programs & Policy at the Coastal Conservation League. “This practice artificially disrupts the beach and dune sediment and, as a result, the long-term resilience of the beach.”
Seabrook Island is an integral part of a critical habitat complex for migratory shorebirds, including overwintering habitat for piping plovers and nesting habitat for Wilson’s Plovers, American Oystercatchers, and Least Terns, all of which are “species of concern” in South Carolina. This habitat is considered critical to these species as they feed on the intertidal flats that would be mined.
Not only would this proposed project disturb crucial habitat and not address long-term challenges but allowing it to move forward also sets a dangerous precedent. Currently, permits such as this violate DHEC regulations, which only allow for sand scraping in emergency situations and under strict requirements. This would also set a terrible example by allowing property owners to use stop-gap measures to temporarily manage problems caused by the poor siting of buildings in high-risk areas along our coast.
In September, the Coastal Conservation League filed a request for DHEC Board review of the permit, which was denied. Now, this request for DHEC to overturn the decision implores them to consider the impacts of this project on current habitat and future projects.
“This project would set a harmful precedent for South Carolina’s coastline,” said Leslie Lenhardt, Senior Managing Attorney at SCELP. “How many times could this kind of band-aid be employed despite the serious damage to the beachfront ecosystem and the birds that depend on it? The regulations clearly do not authorize mining beachfront sand under these circumstances and the permit should be rescinded.”
Leslie Lenhardt, Senior Managing Attorney
South Carolina Environmental Law Project
email@example.com, (843) 527-0078
Lily Abromeit, Communications Director
Coastal Conservation League
firstname.lastname@example.org, (785) 766-5343
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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.