- Associated Press - Thursday, May 8, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina House committee has passed a measure that would allow a Georgetown County community to replace its aging seawall without the help of taxpayer money.

The committee on Thursday approved by a 17-1 vote the controversial legislation to let Debordieu replace the seawall. The move would amount to a revision of the 26-year-old state ban on new seawalls.

Several dozen million-dollar homes are in danger of falling into the ocean due to erosion if the nearly mile-long wall isn’t replaced, said Sponsoring Sen. Raymond Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet.

Cleary said the state could be held liable if the threatened property rights of the homeowners are not protected.

Currently, the seawall can be repaired or rebuilt as long as it isn’t damaged beyond 51 percent but Cleary said a natural disaster could at any time damage the wall beyond 51 percent.

Other seawalls have already been grandfathered in under the 1988 ban, Cleary said.

“If we are going to do it for the people of Charleston and we’re going to do it for the motel owners of Myrtle Beach, then we should do it for the 40 people who own property in Debordieu,” Cleary said.

Cleary said the bill applies to existing seawalls of 4,000 linear feet and the ban on new seawalls would still be enforced. Apart from Debordieu, only The Battery in Charleston could ever match that dimension requirement, he said.

The bill would allow the private community at its own expense to shore up the seawall by putting pylons two feet in front of it. It would be the first step in Debordieu’s $10 million self-funded renourishment project for the eroding beach.

The bill also seeks to give affected communities seven years to replace seawalls; the previously passed Senate version limited the time frame to three years.

The lone vote against the bill in the committee was Rep. Mandy Norrell, D-Lancaster.

Norrell said, “We say it is only going to apply to Debordieu, but what is going to keep … other coastal regions in the state from asking for the same thing?”

Norrell said she is concerned that installing a hard seawall would fuel further erosion. She pointed to other legislation passed in the committee to permit the use of “wave dissipation walls” as safer, environment-friendly alternatives.

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