If you own beachfront property for your home or business (or plan to buy beachfront property), it's important to understand how the recently passed Beachfront Management Reform Act could impact you. The Act mostly pertains to two jurisdictional lines along the coast that are determined by the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Depending on where DHEC sets these lines can create a major disadvantage for landowners along the coast. Let's take a deeper dive into the details around this issue.
Understanding the Jurisdictional Lines: The Baseline and the Setback Line
To understand how the Beachfront Management Reform Act helps landowners, it's necessary to first understand the jurisdictional lines at the heart of the issue.
The baseline is the "seaward line" and is set based on the location of the crest of the primary oceanfront sand dune within a zone. If the shoreline has been damaged or altered by major storms or manually by people, DHEC is directed to use the best historical and scientific information available to determine where the crest of that primary sand dune would be if the shoreline hadn't been altered. Many people think of the baseline as the official borderline where the ocean ends and the land begins. The same standard is used for regular beaches and for stabilized inlet zones.
In an unstabilized inlet zone, the baseline is determined using the farthest inland point of erosion documented within the previous 40 years to present day. Changes or exceptions to this could be made if historical and scientific information of the area indicates the shoreline will never return to a former location.
The Setback Line
The setback line is the "landward line". The location of this line depends on the current yearly average erosion rate. Scientific and historical data determine the average annual erosion rate, which is multiplied by 40 to arrive at the position of the setback line. The only limit is that the setback line must be a minimum of 20 feet inland from the baseline. The land between the baseline and the setback line is mostly a no-build zone. While there is an appeals process, it can be a long and difficult issue to sort out.
Understanding Beachfront Management and Current Issues
Now that we know what the baseline and the setback line are, we can dig into what beachfront management is and what the current issues are that led to the reform act. DHEC is required to review and update the location of both the baseline and the setback line every seven to ten years. Over time, normal tides and major storms reshape our coastline as they have for millennia. With sea levels rising and an increase of major tropical storms and hurricanes, these lines have been shifting inland. Keeping track of these lines is important for monitoring the shoreline and any threat to structures along the coast. These lines are also used when considering beach re-nourishment projects (gathering eroded sand from the ocean and relocating it back onto the beach to combat erosion).
So why the need for reform and protection of landowners? Depending on where the lines are set, people who own land, businesses or homes that end up within the new no-build zone between the two lines could be negatively impacted. If a structure such as a home or business were to be damaged during a major storm, falling between the baseline and setback line could prevent them from being allowed to rebuild. And landowners would essentially be prevented from using or building on their own land for any new structures.
In October 2017, DHEC proposed their updates to the location of the baseline and setback line with intention to take effect by December 31, 2017. Landowners were given very little notice of the proposed movement of the lines and DHEC provided very little transparency about the data and process they used to determine the locations of the new lines. The new lines impacted a large number of coastal and beachfront landowners and created serious backlash.
What the Beachfront Management Reform Act Does
The Beachfront Management Reform Act helps protect landowners and improves the process in several ways:
1. Clarifies the process and information DHEC is required to use to set these lines and gives the public more transparency and insight.
2. Allows for the use of the previously set lines (January 31, 2012) for the current cycle instead of those proposed in October 2017.
3. Creates a permanent baseline that will not move seaward (toward the ocean) from its recorded position on December 31, 2017.
4. Reinstates and updates the review and appeals process between landowners and DHEC.
5. Protects landowners with currently pending appeals by allowing the landowner to choose whether to use the current lines set in 2012 or the lines DHEC proposed in October 2017.
6. For areas impacted by an officially named storm system from June 1, 2018 and onward, the act requires DHEC to use historical and scientific data from previous cycles when setting the lines to avoid putting landowners at a major disadvantage by counting storm data instead of long-term averages.
We hope our deep dive into this important issue has provided both current coastal and beachfront property owners and potential buyers a clearer picture of the Beachfront Management Reform Act. And of course, if you have additional questions, your Century 21 Broadhurst agent is a great resource to get the answers you need.