Environmental law complaint hopes to save Folly Beach from washing away

With Folly Beach being a frequent victim of erosion, attorneys at the South Carolina Environmental Law Project want to keep it from washing away.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 4:20 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2023 at 8:41 AM EDT
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FOLLY BEACH, S.C. (WCSC) - With Folly Beach being a frequent victim of erosion, attorneys at the South Carolina Environmental Law Project want to keep it from washing away.

They are doing this by wanting to save plots of land called super beachfront lots, which are located right in front of beachfront homes that get renourished with sand every couple of years that eventually get washed away naturally.

SCELP says this act of renourishment, called avulsion, needs to be recognized by South Carolina courts.

“Beachfront development is dangerous,” Leslie Lenhardt, senior managing attorney for SCELP, said. “...A situation where you have a lot that’s only present, in reality, 50% of the time, then it makes no sense for someone to try to develop it when that is what nature’s going to take it away.”

The city of Folly Beach, the Coastal Conservation League, the organization Save Folly Beach and several homeowners filed a complaint against the state back in 2019 about these concerns. It states of about 50 super beachfront lots, only a handful are developed and are affected by avulsion.

Lenhardt says the sand from the renourishment is funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and it cost about $11 million to fund the last renourishment in 2018. Just earlier this year, Folly Beach received $27 million in emergency renourishment from the effects of Hurricane Ian.

They ask in this complaint for the state to no longer allow the development of these super beachfront lots. Lenhardt says the beach could no longer exist if this is not prevented.

“If they build a house on it and a seawall, then what you’re faced with is no beach,” Lenhardt said. “When that renourishment sand goes away, there will literally be a wall and the ocean. So, no ability for anybody to enjoy one of South Carolina’s most wonderful and valuable resources is our beaches.”

Lenhardt says it is admirable that Folly is prioritizing its residents and visitors with this complaint to protect one of South Carolina’s most prized possessions.

“If you keep allowing these beachfront lots, these super beachfront lots, to just be built upon, then what you’re going to end up with is more armored beach on Folly Beach,” Lenhardt said. “You’re going to have houses that are going to block people from enjoying the beach. You’re going to have houses that will eventually probably fall into the ocean and who’s going to pay for that? It’s a widespread problem and it impacts everyone that wants to go and enjoy that public resource.”

As it stands now, one of SCELP’s attorneys argued this case in front of the Court of Appeals last month and it may take several months for them to receive a final answer.