Tuesday, July 10, 2018 News · Press Releases

Case Dismissed:
Legal challenges to construction of new DeBordieu seawall prevail

by Diane Knich

Press Release


July 10, 2018


Amy E. Armstrong, Esquire                                                           Caitie Forde-Smith
SC Environmental Law Project                                                  Coastal Conservation League
[email protected] or (843) 527-0078                                            [email protected] or (252) 714-4790

Case dismissed: Legal challenges to construction of new DeBordieu seawall prevail

GEORGETOWN COUNTY, SC–In a win for South Carolina’s fragile coast and natural resources, a group of DeBordieu homeowners have abandoned plans to build a new seawall after a three-year legal battle with the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP) and the Coastal Conservation League.

SCELP’s Executive Director and chief counsel Amy Armstrong described the case’s dismissal as a significant victory. “The order upholds the integrity of the Beachfront Management Act and its prohibition on new seawalls,” Armstrong said. “Now more than ever, as our coast is seeing the effects of sea level rise, severe erosion and frequent major storm events, the prohibition is an important tool for protecting the public’s beach.”

The Conservation League, represented by SCELP, applauded the decision.

“Seawalls and other hard structures are short-term, shortsighted attempts to address the impacts of climate change,” Conservation League Executive Director Laura Cantral said.

“The Conservation League will always challenge decisions that threaten South Carolina’s natural resources. We are eager to work with coastal communities like DeBordieu to pursue policies that will help preserve our beaches for future generations,” Cantral said.

New seawalls worsen beach erosion and degrade beaches, and the hard structures have been prohibited in South Carolina since the passage of the Beachfront Management Act in 1988. Following an unsuccessful attempt to amend the law, a group of beachfront property owners in the private, gated DeBordieu Colony community retained a lobbyist to secure a special exemption from the prohibition through a budget proviso.

Relying solely on the language of a constitutionally suspect budget proviso, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) issued a permit authorizing the construction of a new 1,800-foot timber seawall that encroached two feet seaward of and three feet higher than an existing wall, resulting in a total loss of 3,600 square feet of public trust beach.

The Conservation League, represented by SCELP, challenged both the DHEC permit in the Administrative Law Court, as well as the constitutionality of the budget proviso in circuit court. The groups argued that the proviso violated the “One Subject Clause,” which requires that every law can relate to only one subject and that the subject must be expressed in the title of the law.

In August 2017, Administrative Law Judge Deb Durden decided that the Conservation League did not have standing to challenge the permit. SCELP and the Conservation League appealed that case to the South Carolina Court of Appeals. Ultimately, the DeBordieu property owners agreed to withdraw the permit, and DHEC agreed to cancel it. The circuit court entered an Order on June 19 disposing the case.

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