The 2015-2016 session is officially over, and the consensus among pundits and editorial writers is that not too much of moment was accomplished. I can’t disagree.
Many of us had high hopes for ethics reform, a reform and proper funding of the Department of Transportation, as well as some movement on the education mandate given us by the state Supreme Court, after decades of consideration. There was great “sound and fury” but our progress, while not insignificant, was a disappointment to most, including this legislator.
That said, I believe if we look just under the surface of the big issues, we did a lot of things that needed doing, as well as didn’t do some things that would have certainly come back to haunt us.
There was a strong consensus when it passed that the 1988 Beachfront Management Act would help add a degree of rationality to development along our ocean beachfronts. While the act meant well, it just did not do what was intended.
We did not make an orderly withdrawal from the ocean; we simply socialized the costs of having inappropriate development near the water, and democratized the costs of paying to protect development investment with public renourishment money and permission to build protective structures that merely shifted the erosion down the beach. This year we finally – and without too much fanfare – plugged the loopholes.
Under the Shoreline Management Act (S.319), the line beyond which oceanfront building cannot occur will be marked on Dec. 31, 2017. The implications of this change are profound. The impacts on flood insurance, disaster management and incentives for folks to think twice about where they build on barrier islands are large and persuasive.
This reform grew out of the 2011 Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management, which was chaired by Wes Jones and included my friend and delegation colleague, Bill Herbkersman. The testimony and research presented to the committee took several years to become legislation. Bill and I were sponsors in the House, and Chip Campsen in the Senate.
For all of us along the coastline, this is cause for celebration.
Again, Bill and I were primary sponsors of the Nighttime Golf Cart Bill, doing the heavy lifting for a couple of years to get this on the governor’s desk, which she has signed. Unfortunately, the language that came from Senate amendments is unclear as to whether it only includes Bluffton, or Sun City South, or other areas not qualified through population or barrier island status. This was a huge and unexpected disappointment.
Two things that didn’t happen that we would have regretted were the measure disallowing local jurisdictions from regulating the use of plastic grocery bags, and also the preservation of the automatic stay after challenges to development permits. In both cases, Dr. Chris Marsh, my friend and also executive director of the Lowcountry Institute at Spring Island, provided timely and persuasive studies, which allowed me to keep these bills from coming to the floor for debate.
Finally, we shortened the session by three weeks, allowing fewer opportunities for mischief.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.