Groups push rules for shorter, fewer docks

Published on 03/17/01

BY LYNNE LANGLEY Of The Post and Courier Staff

The Lowcountry could see fewer new docks and shorter lengths under proposed regulations that won votes from two state advisory groups Friday.

Both groups passed resolutions asking the board of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to find the proposed regulations needed and reasonable and to approve them for submission to the General Assembly.

The resolutions followed a joint meeting Thursday, only the second time the two groups had convened together.

The Coastal Zone Management Appellate Panel advises DHEC's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. The Marine Advisory Committee reports to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Board.

Coastal resource staffers talked with Natural Resources staff as they drafted and revised the dock proposal, making it more stringent.

The proposed changes would limit dock lengths to 500 feet rather than the current 1,000, not permit docks in creeks less than 20 feet wide and require joint-use or community docks in dock master plans. Docks damaged beyond repair would have to meet the new strictures if they were rebuilt.

"Tidal creeks are critical habitat with critical ecological processes," Fred Holland, director of the state Marine Resources Research Institute, told both groups. Development affects water quality and marine life there, he said.

Creeks less than 20 feet are vital nursery habitats and there has been considerable talk about the need to protect them, said Richard Chinnis, director of regulatory programs for the coastal office.

Docks have become the hot-button issue, the issue on which the public focuses, Chinnis said.

Some 717 private dock applications came in last year, about the same each year since 1992, and the coastal office approved all but a handful.

On average, Charleston County and Edisto bring 450 to 500 applications a year; Georgetown and Horry counties, 50; Beaufort County, 200 to 250. Beaufort County has set a maximum length of 300 feet.

The marine committee added a provision to its resolution asking DHEC to require that any bridge built to a small island must be shown to serve a public need.

"Every year the state is granting more bridges over marshes," said Nancy Vinson, water quality program director for the S.C. Coastal Conservation League.

On Friday, she asked the marine committee to send a message to the DHEC board about the importance of protecting salt marsh as habitat for birds, nursery grounds for marine creatures and state land held in public trust