State committee: current beach "retreat" policy not working

South Carolina's current beach policy is not working and needs changes.

That's the conclusion of a state panel that spent three years looking at the state's laws for beach management.

Since 1988, South Carolina's official policy has been to call for a gradual retreat of development away from the beach, to preserve the state's beaches from erosion.

But the 16-member Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management that studied the law released a report Monday that said the word "retreat" is vague and impractical and emphasizing "preservation" of beach and dunes would be more realistic.

Myrtle Beach officials say that shouldn't mean allowing development that's closer to the beach.

"There was some talk over the last couple of years on a statewide level about, since the beaches are doing well, allowing people to build more things closer to the beach," said city spokesman Mark Kruea. "We don't agree with that, we're happy with the current setback lines."

In its report, the committee said it sees preservation as a broader term that includes things like conservation of undeveloped shoreline, sand dune creation and beach nourishment.

Sen. Ray Cleary of Murrells Inlet, who's on the committee, says he thinks that shouldn't mean that state would keep fixing the chronic problem of beach renourishment, paying for the same thing over and over.

But Kruea says the beach is an important natural asset to the state and needs to be kept up.

"I think it's only smart to maintain that asset over time. If it wears away, you need to put it back. You paint your house every five to ten years because, hey, it needs protection and the beach is no less than that."

Kruea says changing the state policy from retreat to preservation shouldn't make a big difference for the city, since Myrtle Beach's setback lines are already farther back than the state requires.

Cleary says the committee just wants sensible beach development that protects both landowners and undeveloped beaches.