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Erosion response is a measure of how well a state's policies and procedures limit the extent of shoreline armoring, unsafe coastal development, and costly beach nourishment projects. Evaluation of this indicator brings attention to the states that are taking proactive roles in natural beach preservation and natural hazard avoidance. Through the formulation (if not already in place), implementation, and strict adherence of the specific criteria within the indicator, states can overcome two fundamental obstacles to alternative erosion response practices outlined by the Oceans Studies Board (2007):
For example, are statewide oceanfront construction setbacks used to site new development and are these based on the latest erosion rates? When existing development is damaged during a storm does a state prohibit reconstruction or provide incentives for relocation? Before permitting shoreline stabilization does a state require: that there is demonstrated need via geo-technical reports with content standards; that alternatives to armoring including managed retreat/relocation are fully explored; and that potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects are taken into account? If a state can answer 'yes' to most of these questions then its rank is high and if the answers are mostly 'no' then its rank is low.
Also see the "Policies" discussion of the Shoreline Structures section of this report for more information on South Carolina's erosion response.
Possible quantitative measures for this indicator include the number of new structures located within setback areas, number of damaged structures reconstructed in identified erosion zones, number of instances where alternatives to 'hard' shore protection were employed, the number of shoreline structures permitted under 'emergency' provisions, and the number of permits for shoreline structures reviewed, approved or denied. We have found that such information is rarely available.
In 1988 the Beachfront Management Act mandated the establishment of a baseline, usually defined as the dune crest. For armored shorelines, the baseline is defined where the dune crest would be if the shoreline had not been armored. For inlet zones, which are sections of beach in close proximity to tidal inlets, the baseline is drawn at the most landward shoreline position at any time during the past 40 years. The setback line is established based on the baseline. The setback line is equal to the average annual erosion rate multiplied by 40. As a result, in some locations there are required setbacks of as much as 400 feet. For stable or accretional beaches with a zero erosion rate, the setback line was located a minimum of 20 feet landward of the baseline.
The DHEC Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management is mandated by the Beachfront Management Act (48-39-280-C) to review the position of the beachfront baseline and 40-year setback line, the state's beachfront jurisdictional lines, every 8 to 10 years. In 2010, DHEC-OCRM completed the statutorily-mandated review cycle for beachfront jurisdictional line setting for all state beaches. For the first time, the final adopted lines are made available as high resolution PDF documents on DHEC's website.
The SCOCRM website notes that:
"As shoreline armoring proliferated during the late 1970s and the 1980s the state recognized that the original Coastal Zone Management Act did not provide adequate jurisdiction to enable the Coastal Council to effectively protect the integrity of the beach/dune system. In response to growing concern that the public recreational beach was being lost, the South Carolina General Assembly passed the Beachfront Management Act in 1988. The Beachfront Management Act changed the way that the Coastal Council regulated oceanfront property. The Coastal Council was mandated to establish a new line of jurisdiction, called the baseline, for all oceanfront property. For most areas, the baseline was drawn along the dune crest. For armored shorelines, the baseline was drawn at the theoretical dune crest location--the position where the dune crest was calculated to exist if the shoreline had not been armored. For most erosional beaches with a sand deficit, this theoretical dune crest location was significantly landward of the seawall or bulkhead. Finally, for inlet zones, which are sections of beach in close proximity to tidal inlets, the baseline was drawn at the most landward shoreline position at any time during the past 40 years. For areas with dynamic shorelines, this baseline position could also be significantly landward of the present day shoreline.
Once the baseline was established a second line of jurisdiction, called the setback line, was drawn. The setback line was intended to be a projection of where the baseline would be located in 40 years. It was located landward from the baseline, at a distance equal to the average annual erosion rate multiplied by 40. For stable or accretional beaches with a zero rate, the setback line was located a minimum of 20 feet landward of the baseline. This setback line, which for some highly erosional beaches fell hundreds of feet landward of the baseline, marked the landward limit of the Coastal Council's jurisdiction. All new structures seaward of this line were limited to 5,000 square feet of space, and were required to be located as far landward as practical. These changes in state law were designed to give property owners reasonable use of their land, while at the same time keeping large commercial structures off the beach. In addition, new erosion control devices such as seawall, bulkheads, and revetments were prohibited seaward of the setback line, and existing erosion control structures could not be rebuilt if they were more than two-thirds damaged. The state now promotes soft solutions, such as renourishment, as an alternative to shoreline armoring along erosional beaches."
Folly Beach is an exception to many of the Beachfront Management Act regulations. In this area:
The damage threshold for oceanfront erosion control structures, such as seawalls, changed from two-thirds to one-half in June 2005. For example, if a seawall is more than 50% destroyed, then it is considered damaged beyond repair and cannot be rebuilt. The damage threshold for houses remains at two-thirds. This change occurred in accordance with the state's Beachfront Management Act, as amended.
The Beachfront Management Act contains a laudable and progressive Shoreline Retreat Strategy. However, the 2006 Coastal Assessment states:
"DHEC-OCRM needs to revisit and update its Shoreline Retreat Strategy under the Beachfront Management Act, as well as its regulations concerning non-beachfront shoreline protective structures. The agency also needs to support an update of local beachfront management plans, which, among other elements, address shoreline retreat strategy and policies for rebuilding after damage from hurricanes."
In response, in 2007 DHEC-OCRM initiated a Shoreline Change Initiative to organize existing data collection and research efforts, identify additional research needs, and formulate policy options to guide the management of South Carolina’s estuarine and beachfront shorelines.
The Shoreline Change Advisory Committee is an integral part of DHEC’s multi-year Shoreline Change Initiative. Comprised of a broad cross-section of coastal stakeholders, the committee is charged with organizing existing shoreline research, identifying research priority needs and exploring policy options to ensure the long-term sustainability of the state’s coastal resources. A final report of their findings Adapting to Shoreline Change, A Foundation for Improved Management and Planning in South Carolina was released in April 2010. The recommendations include:
"The Committee also recommends expansion of the SC Beach Restoration and Improvement Trust Fund (§ 48-40-30 of the SC Beach Restoration and Improvement Act) in several sections (Recommendations 4, 5 and 10). Currently, the fund is used to provide state matching funds for priority public beach renourishment projects and to support emergency response needs to repair beaches after storms. The SC Council on Coastal Futures (2004) recommended that the state should capitalize and adequately fund the trust fund. This Committee concurs with this earlier recommendation and additionally recommends that the fund should be expanded to include a broader range of beach management options, including structure relocation, land acquisition, and planning proposals. Eligibility for expanded and more predictable state beach management funds would be a key incentive for several of the recommendations in this report."
On October 14, 2010, the DHEC Board selected the membership of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management. Representing a broad range of stakeholder interests, this Committee was charges with developing specific regulatory recommendations to enhance the management of fragile coastal resources and habitats, improve coastal planning, and prepare South Carolina for emerging challenges and opportunities for their beaches and estuarine shorelines. In June 2011 the Blue Ribbon Committee made a positive move when it called for an end to loosening building restrictions on beaches that taxpayers have paid to renourish. Specifically, the committee said the state should never again move building-restriction lines closer to the ocean following the completion of a beach renourishment project.
An editorial S.C. beachfront challenge appeared in The Post and Courier on July 6, 2011. The editorial discusses the role and importance of the Blue Ribbon Committee and concludes:
"Over the course of the next seven months, the blue-ribbon panel will also make recommendations about beachfront jurisdiction, renourishment, emergencies, buffers and stabilization. These are difficult issues, and writing a reasonable law, while vital, will be challenging. In a contest with man, the wild, wonderful ocean is going to win. We should recognize that and find the best ways to live safely and respectfully as its neighbor."
The Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Development voted 6-5 in January 2012 to expand building restrictions farther inland along parts of the S.C. oceanfront, a move that would effectively ban new seawalls in some areas where they are now allowed. The group’s recommendation also would make it harder to replace beach houses with more intense development, such as high-rise hotels, in some areas. Tightening the rules would affect 264 additional developed lots along the state’s immediate shore. That would increase to 43 percent the number of developed lots on South Carolina beaches affected by the restrictions, records show. It also would apply to undeveloped lots. The panel’s vote is a recommendation that would need Legislative approval.
In May 2012 the Committee on Shoreline Management agreed that the state should allow groins only on the ends of beaches and near inlets that need to remain open for boat traffic. The committee's recommendation was scheduled to go to the Department of Health and Environmental Control board and the Legislature later in 2012. If legislators approve it, it would effectively stop installation of groins in the surf perpendicular to the shoreline.
In February 2013 the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Development released a final report Recommendations for Improved Beachfront Management in South Carolina. Here are the recommendations:
These recommendations are being considered by the DHEC Board for regulatory promulgation.
In December 2009 it was announced that the Town of Hilton Head Island and the owners of nine oceanfront Singleton Beach lots had settled on how close to the beach the owners can build. The town and the property owners agreed on a new baseline for the lots in a 10-lot subdivision between Folly Creek and Singleton Beach. The baseline was moved to the base of the sand dune, on the landward side. The setback line is now 15 feet behind it. The baseline, the point closest to the beach that structures can be built, had been located up to 30 feet farther inland. The change means that lot owners have more room to build on their lots.
The state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resources Management had moved the line closer to the beach in January 2009, in large part as a result of the town's beach renourishment efforts in the area and a rock groin the town built to stabilize the beach. The state reviews baseline locations along the coast every eight to 10 years. Town officials had objected to moving the line forward in the Singleton Beach area because that area historically has been very unstable. The town had installed the groin there to try to stabilize the beach.
When property owners bought the lots, they apparently thought the baseline would be moved forward because of renourishment. The town's last renourishment project was completed in February 2007. The property owners attempted to get the baseline moved before the state's once-a-decade review. But in 2007, an Administrative Law Court judge upheld the town's right to prevent the baseline from moving. State law has been clear from the start, the judge ruled, that the baseline could not be moved unless the town certified that the change was consistent with its beachfront management plan.
In September 2009, the town established its Dune Accretion Zone and Critical Storm Protection Area, which sets the baseline for building restrictions at 1999 locations. Property owners can't build any major structures closer to the beach than those that already exist. Such restrictions have been in place along Forest Beach since 2006, but they now extend the entire beachfront, from Fish Haul Creek to Lands End.
The state's Shoreline Change Advisory Committee has recommended the state adopt a similar policy of not allowing the baseline to move seaward as a result of renourishment.
But, in December 2010 an article Hilton Head landowners sue state over oceanside building restrictions stated:
An article Storm damage could cost SC tax payers appeared in The State on July 3, 2011. The article states:
So, the controversy rages on.
OCRM is renewing its focus on “coastal hazards,” such as coastal erosion, storms, and sea level rise. The Science and Policy Division is placing particular emphasis on gradual and episodic shoreline changes, and related OCRM policies. For example, OCRM is supporting the Belle W. Baruch Foundation in Georgetown, SC to evaluate a shoreline stabilization alternative that is intended to promote vegetation and limit impacts to water quality and interference with coastal processes. In addition, Braxton Davis, Director of Science and Policy, currently serves as Chair of the Coastal States Organization’s Coastal Hazards Committee, which provides “one voice” for all coastal states and territories with respect to federal government policies and programs related to coastal hazards.
"Renourishment" by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1990s at the Cherry Grove Community in North Myrtle Beach allowed state regulators to move setback lines seaward by 50 to 100 feet in the center of Cherry Grove. This, in turn, has led to the approval of construction of four oceanfront condominium towers in a community that is only six to seven feet above sea level and which ranks 55th nationally in repeat flood insurance losses since 1978.
Stan Riggs, a professor at East Carolina University, believes it was a "terrible idea" to move the setback lines closer to the ocean. Orrin Pilkey, a coastal geologist from Duke University, has said that the Cherry Grove case is a classic example of how beach renourishment projects encourage development.
Despite the threat of hurricanes and rising costs to taxpayers, state regulators in April 2008 decided against toughening rules that allow high-rise condominiums in the Cherry Grove community. This solidifies a state policy of letting less-restrictive oceanfront building codes stand after taxpayers pay to renourish beaches. The government has spent more than $100 million in the past two decades to widen South Carolina's eroding seashore. It spent some $20 million replenishing the shore at North Myrtle Beach in the 1990s and is preparing another multimillion dollar renourishment project in July 2008. The $30 million project also includes other Grand Strand beaches. DHEC's proposal for North Myrtle Beach is the first in a series of building regulation reviews during the next two years that will look at most S.C. beaches to determine whether building restrictions should be changed.
The South Carolina Coastal Zone 309 Assessment and Strategy notes that the South Carolina Beachfront Management Act calls for all jurisdictional lines in the beach/dune critical area to be revised every 8 to 10 years. It reports that the latest revision occurred between winter 1999 and spring 2000. The revisions took into account physical changes to the beach since 1990 as well as a more detailed analysis of historical aerial photographs. In several areas, the agency's jurisdictional lines moved landward and the agency has assumed greater regulatory review.
It also reports that the establishment of a State Building Code in 1997 addresses concerns with new development and repairs to existing development in high hazard areas. Since the adoption of this legislation, the establishment of programs to train and certify building codes enforcement officers, and the creation of the Loss Mitigation Grant Program to encourage local communities to develop risk reduction plans, have addressed these concerns
DHEC's Critical Area Permitting Regulations provide guidelines for development within the coastal zone, while still providing protection for coastal resources. Also see these Frequently Asked Questions on Critical Area Permitting.
The South Carolina Department of Insurance's SC Safe Home reimbursement grants are 50-50 matches worth up to $5,000 to help cover the cost of making improvements to fortify homes against hurricanes. The money for the Safe Home program is drawn from a $2.3 million pool of recurring funds the state legislature set aside.
EPA has published a summary document Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: South Carolina (2009).
South Carolina has developed a Beachfront Vulnerability Index (BVI) to assess community exposure and susceptibility to losses from storm surge and erosion. The BVI identifies vulnerability to coastal hazards under present-day conditions (using historical data instead of predictive models) at the parcel level. Created with the assistance of a NOAA Coastal Fellow by the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (DHEC-OCRM), the BVI combines data on elevation (lidar), long-term erosion rates (DHEC), number of dunes present (DHEC), wave height (NOAA), tidal range (NOAA), a habitable structure’s proximity to an inlet (DHEC), and a habitable structure’s distance from the DHEC-OCRM lines of jurisdiction (setback line and baseline). These data were edited, reclassified, and standardized using ArcGIS. The standardized variables were then analyzed using the ArcGIS Weighted Overlay tool to establish a vulnerability score for each parcel along the South Carolina beachfront. Planners will use results from the BVI in long-term planning efforts to address vulnerable areas along the beachfront. For example, BVI results will help identify vulnerable areas within a community, encouraging local planners to incorporate mitigation and adaptation strategies in their beachfront management plans. Also, South Carolina officials will use BVI findings to update the state’s beachfront management plan. More info
Charleston County's Project Impact is an initiative originally sponsored by FEMA to assist local communities in becoming more disaster resistant. Project Impact is an on-going initiative in the Charleston County Area that performs projects which help make the community better able to resist damages due to hazard events. Project Impact has sponsored Build-a-Dune Projects that have helped establish new dune systems for over 3,100 linear feet in two communities: Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms. Volunteers have provided the labor to install the sand fencing and plant sea oats for each of the Build-a-Dune projects. Build-a-Dune projects are environmental service projects that are suitable for children and adults.
The federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), passed in 1982, was designed to "minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife and other natural resources" by denying federal support for everything from sewer construction to flood insurance in undeveloped or little-developed coastal areas such as barrier islands. CBRA does not restrict development in these areas, but it indirectly discourages development by denying the use of federal funds for development projects or redevelopment after storm or flood damage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers this program, which identified 1.3 million acres of coastal land to be covered by the act. Unfortunately, pressure by property owners and developers in these areas has lead Congress to pass dozens of exemption bills which exclude certain areas from CBRA, thus thwarting the intent of the Act.
The Coastal Barrier Improvement Act (CBIA) was enacted on November 16, 1990. The CBIA resulted in reauthorization of the CBRA of 1982. The CBRA establishes the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) to protect areas such as undeveloped coastal barrier islands. There is a discussion of CBRA on NOAA's web site that concludes:
"Although the removal of federal funding assistance has discouraged development in some coastal barrier islands, development has continued in other areas despite designation as a unit of the CBRS. CBIA is not intended to prevent or regulate development in high-risk areas; rather the intent is to direct that federal dollars not be spent for development in these areas. Activities conducted in areas adjacent to CBRS units may adversely impact these sensitive areas; these activities are not regulated under CBIA. In addition, CBIA does not restrict the use of private, local, or state funding within CBRS units. Some coastal states have initiated legislation that limits state funding of certain projects."
A report released in March 2007 reviews the extent to which (1) development has occurred in CBRS units since their inclusion in the system and (2) federal financial assistance and permits have been provided to entities in CBRS units. GAO electronically mapped address data for structures within 91 randomly selected CBRS units and collected information on federal financial assistance and permits for eight federal agencies. GAO found multiple federal agencies have provided some financial assistance to property owners in CBRS units that is expressly prohibited by CBRA; some assistance allowed under CBRA; and hundreds of permits for federally regulated development activities within the unit. GAO recommended, among other things, the four agencies that provided prohibited loan guarantees or insurance policies to CBRS units first verify and then cancel those that are in violation of CBRA.
On April 7, 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released to the public its Report to Congress: John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project and announced the start of a 90-day public comment period. The report, which was directed by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-514), highlights the benefits of updating Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) maps with more accurate and precise digital maps to better protect people, coastal areas and natural resources.
FEMA has now developed a fact sheet on CBRA. The fact sheet outlines the responsibilities and restrictions that various programs within FEMA have under CBRA.
Since the mid-1980s, South Carolina has pursued an especially proactive beach management policy. A combination of strict construction setbacks and straightforward coastal management objectives has largely been responsible for limiting coastal development and seeking alternatives for hardened shorelines. The adoption of the “40 year retreat” policy, as presented in the relatively groundbreaking 1988 Beachfront Management Act, has also inadvertently provided the State with the tools necessary to adapt to such climate change issues as accelerated sea-level rise.
While South Carolina enjoys the benefits of a comprehensive and progressive coastal management program on paper, in practice, there are still a number of improvements the State could undertake in order to increase the program’s effectiveness in the coastal zone. For example, South Carolina’s “strict” setback regulations and proposed “40-year retreat” strategy have led many to believe the State is fully prepared to handle climate change impacts. Setback lines, however, are currently determined using historic erosion-rate data, and thus do not include accelerated sea-level rise projections. Furthermore, despite some confusion, current setback laws do not actually prohibit shoreline development, and in many beachfront areas, especially those of privately owned communities, beach fill and shoreline armoring are still extensively employed to protect development. Charleston, the state’s capital and a major port city, also has yet to develop a local beachfront management plan. Urban centers such as these will experience particular difficulty in retreating from the coast and adapting to a changing climate. It is therefore necessary that these highly populated centers take immediate action against rising sea levels and coastal storms through various outreach, legislative, and incentive programs.
The formation of the State’s Climate, Energy, & Commerce Advisory Committee in early 2007 helped South Carolina centralize its climate change research and policy making vehicle. Yet although the State has acknowledged climate change and its associated impacts, and is supposedly working towards mitigation, there is a notable lack of educational and outreach tools/documents available on these subjects. Along these same lines, the state’s former climate change website (apparently no longer in existence) also failed to fully define climate change, its implications for South Carolina, and initiatives currently underway at the state and local levels. In this sense there remains a significant gap between the state’s climate change commitment and knowledge of this commitment by local citizens. This issue is further exemplified in the State’s approach to climate change adaptation, where the phenomena of sea-level rise is accepted as fact, but not necessarily as related to climate change. As adaptation measures become more imperative, it will be necessary for South Carolina to more clearly define the connection between the two. Despite some of these roadblocks, the State is poised at a particularly advantageous vantage point, and given set goals and clear adaptation measures, should be able more comprehensively deal with climate change adaptation in the next few years.
Recognizing the implications that global climate change may have on the economy, environment and quality of life in South Carolina, former Governor Sanford issued Executive Order 2007-04 on February 16, 2007, establishing the South Carolina Climate, Energy & Commerce Advisory Committee (CECAC). In July 2008 the CECAC released its Final Report, representing the State’s first Climate Action Plan that focuses primarily on climate change mitigation. The Report included recommendations for the creation of a blue ribbon panel on adaptation to climate change to develop a state Climate Change Adaptation Plan. South Carolina remains in the early stages of GHG reductions and addressing climate change mitigation. By utilizing the CECAC’s Final Report, it is hoped the State will pursue a more proactive climate change policy in the near future.
The State government formerly maintained a climate change website, which primarily acted as a portal for CECAC discussions rather than for climate change information as related to South Carolina. South Carolina could greatly benefit from increased educational outreach and more clearly defining the State’s role in, and commitment to, climate change mitigation and adaptation.
In February 2013 The State published an article Secret climate report calls for action in SC that stated:
"A team of state scientists has outlined serious concerns about the damage South Carolina will suffer from climate change – threats that include invading eels, dying salt marshes, flooded homes and increased diseases in the state’s wildlife. But few people have seen the team’s study. The findings are outlined in a report on global warming that has been kept secret by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources for more than a year because agency officials say their “priorities have changed.” DNR board members never put the study out for public review as planned. The State newspaper recently obtained a copy. Authors of the November 2011 draft said global warming is a reality and the DNR should take a lead role in educating the public about climate change while also increasing scientific research."
The report was released and public comments were solicited in approximately March 2013. Note that DNR has a link to "climate" on their website, but not "climate change."
Over twenty years ago, in 1986, the former South Carolina Coastal Council (now South Carolina Oceans and Coastal Resources Management) convened the “Blue Ribbon Committee on Erosion” to address the “crisis” situation rapidly evolving along the State’s coastline. Recognizing the threats of chronic erosion, gradual sea level rise, increased shoreline development, and a lack of comprehensive beachfront planning and management, the Committee developed recommendations to provide guidance to state regulators and legislators in developing comprehensive state beach management policies. Most of these recommendations were eventually adopted into law through the Beachfront Management Act of 1988, an important piece of legislation that has since served to significantly limit development and hard stabilization of much of South Carolina coastline. Today the South Carolina Coastal Program continues to address many of the issues originally promulgated in the 1980s.
The Beachfront Management Act attempted to increase the effectiveness of the State’s coastal management program, largely by amending the original Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands Act (1977). Establishing a novel statewide erosion-based coastal retreat policy, the Beachfront Management Act quickly became known for its highly proactive progressive beach management strategy. The Act also importantly recognized the detrimental effects associated with of erosion control devices, promoted the use of “soft” stabilization alternatives, and proposed long-term solutions to beach erosion issues. Sea-level rise, development encroachment, and lack of beach management planning were further cited as major concerns, and taken into account in the Act’s eight state policies.
The Act concluded that retreat from the beaches over a thirty year transition period, in combination with selective beach fill, represented the “only practical approach to our coastal erosion problems." Section 48039-280 of the Act officially establishes the State’s forty-year retreat policy. Thus, while the South Carolina Coastal Program does not have any policies or initiatives specific to climate change or sea-level rise, its erosion-based retreat policy theoretically takes into account climate change adaptation. However, since setbacks are based on historical erosion data and not projected accelerated sea-level rise rates, the State still effectively lacks a comprehensive sea-level rise adaptation mechanism.
The baseline is typically placed at the crest of the primary sand dune, while the setback line is demarcated landward of the baseline. Taking into account the dynamic nature of coastlines, South Carolina’s setback lines are based on the annual erosion rate in a particular area, and thus characteristically varies along the entire coast. Stable or accreting beaches have a minimum 20-foot setback line, while eroding areas can have setbacks as great as 400 feet landward of the baseline. The setback line is drawn landward of the baseline, a distance of 40x the long-term average erosion rate. Seaward of the setback line, new erosion-control structures such as seawalls and rock revetments are banned, and size restrictions for the construction of new habitable structures are also in place. These lines also regulate coastal reconstruction/repair following major storms. On beaches that are accreting or have a very low erosion rate, the minimum setback distance is 20 feet.
It is important to note that the Beachfront Management Act enacted an overarching policy (not plan) of retreat. Regulated by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Concern, Ocean and Coastal Resource Management division (SCDHEC-OCRM), the retreat policy uses a combination of historic shoreline and present-day beach profiling data to establish a minimum “baseline," in conjunction with a more landward 40-year “setback line." Together, these lines form the state’s jurisdictional boundaries, and have served to strictly limit both the size and location of new or replacement coastal structures. The beachfront setback line is not a "no build line" but rather a line of jurisdiction that delineates permitting authority. Prior to the Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council court case, no construction was allowed seaward of the baseline. The Case changed this provision, allowing building seaward of the baseline, provided that a special permit is obtained.
The retreat policy does not call for the immediate, active relocation of houses outside of the beachfront setback area. Rather, it ensures that new erosion control structures and very large habitable structures such as condos and hotels are not built within the setback area. Further, if a house is destroyed, it must be moved as far landward as possible on the lot when it is rebuilt. By not allowing new seawalls and gradually requiring the removal of destroyed seawalls over time, the retreat policy ensures abandonment of property to allow the natural, inland migration of a healthy beach/dune system if or when renourishment becomes unsustainable for a specific area or community.
Detailed reports have been generated for each section of beach along the South Carolina coast. These reports contain specific information regarding how and where lines for setbacks are set, how zones were determined, and how erosion rates were calculated. Local beachfront governments further use these reports to aid in preparation of Local Shorefront Management Plans. Due to its stringent setback laws, South Carolina does benefit from extensive erosion mapping. Erosion rates are already mapped for the entire coast, and as required by the South Carolina Coastal Zone Management Act, are updated every ten years. The last revisions were made in 1999 and 2000, with updates expected again in 2010. As of 2008, only three coastal counties had completed LiDAR mapping, although future LiDAR mapping for the entire coast is planned. Currently the DHEC-OCRM is reviewing baseline and setback line positions for the 2008-2010 cycle. Despite the current extent of shoreline mapping, it is important the state soon embark on sea-level rise inundation mapping. This will enable the State to define particularly hazard prone areas, and thus be able to better prioritize coastal funding and state efforts in the coastal zone.
EPA has also published a summary document Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: South Carolina (2009). The land potentially submerged by rising sea level in South Carolina extends tens of miles inland from the ocean. Most of this land is still rural, as is the case in Georgia and North Carolina, but this situation is in stark contrast with most of the rest of the Atlantic coast.
The Beachfront Management Act is implemented through a variety of mechanisms at both the state and local levels, most notably utilizing the State Comprehensive Beachfront Management Plan and Local Comprehensive Beach Management Plans. All ocean beachfront counties and municipalities are required to prepare local comprehensive plans, which must include a minimum of ten specific elements (Code of Regulations 30.21). Standards for these Plans are stipulated within the Beachfront Management Act, and help guarantee effective coastal zone management. Those counties who have not yet adopted such plans include Briarcliffe acres, Colleton County, and Charleston County. To ensure the State’s 40-year retreat period, the Act requires local governments to provide in their local comprehensive beach management plan a “detailed strategy for achieving the goals of this chapter by the end of the forty-year retreat period." South Carolina’s original Beachfront Management Plan was published in 1992, and can be found here. Currently, the state is reviewing and updating the State Comprehensive Beach Management Plan. Updates are planned every five years.
The report An Assessment of Shoreline Management Options Along the South Carolina Coast (2009) revisits the Beachfront Management Plan and examines options for addressing shoreline change as background to an update of South Carolina’s current Beachfront Management Plan. Initially the report notes that:
“The prospect of accelerated sea level rise from climate change is becoming a more serious issue for coastal managers…and could be a catalyst for better shoreline management plans.”
The report provides a substantial overview of shoreline management program in both South Carolina and across the nation, highlighting needs identified by coastal managers, progress made in the coastal zone, and outlooks for the future. Detailing the history and background of South Carolina’s beachfront management, the report also provides comparative case studies of coastal management on Hilton Head and Pawleys Islands. In assessing the effectiveness of South Carolina’s setback regulations, the report concluded that they have proved less of a regulatory impact than originally envisioned. However, it did point out that setbacks can, and should, be used to delineate areas with a high vulnerability and an implied risk as part of beachfront management plans. It was further proposed that state investments provide leverage to assist local governments to adopt long-term approaches to address shoreline change. Abandonment and relocation should be an integral part of these future plans, and in some cases may be more cost effective than other management forward.
The Plan also calls for local government entities to undertake greater proactive involvement in coastal zone management, and highlights the necessity of adopting a long-term view in addressing shoreline change. In this sense, the Plan proposes a new round of local beachfront management plans be developed.
Section 30.1 of the state Code of Regulations also addresses sea-level rise, mainly as related to the value of beach and dune systems. As with the State’s erosion-based retreat policy, Section 30.1 does not include specific sea-level rise adaptation policies, nor does it include information about changes in the rate of sea-level rise. However it does acknowledge the sea-level rise issue, and provides the following opinion of sea-level rise within the State of South Carolina:
“It has been clearly demonstrated that the erosion problems of this State are caused by a persistent rise in sea level, a lack of comprehensive beach management planning, and poorly planned oceanfront development, including construction of hard erosion control structures, which encroach upon the beach/dune system. Sea level rise in this century is a scientifically documented fact. Our shoreline is suffering from its effects today. It must be accepted that regardless of attempts to forestall the process, the Atlantic Ocean, as a result of sea level rise and periodic storms, is ultimately going to force those who have built too near the beachfront to retreat.”
South Carolina’s Coastal Program launched a multi-year Shoreline Change Initiative in 2007 to address beachfront and estuarine shoreline management issues, as well as concerns about intensifying sea level rise and coastal storms. As part of its increased effort to focus on coastal communities’ resilience to erosion, hurricanes, and sea-level rise, the Shoreline Change Initiative charged the Shoreline Change Advisory Committee with conducting analyses of the risks to South Carolina’s coastal communities and habitats, reexamine policies, and develop new approaches for coastal regulators, planners, local governments, and the public to prepare for and adapt to shoreline changes in the state.
Created in 2007 by the Coastal Program, the Shoreline Change Advisory Committee (SCAC) was organized as an external advisory committee charged with reviewing the past 20+ years of shoreline management under the Beachfront Management Act. The SCAC was further directed to identify potential research and policy needs related to beachfront and estuarine shoreline management for the coming decades. Although sea level rise adaptation was not a specific focus of the Committee, it was indirectly taken into account by many of the recommendations. In assessing the overall effectiveness of the Beachfront Management Act, the Committee concluded:
“…the overall scale of beachfront development has certainly been reduced under the existing policies, and in several cases structures have been built farther landward on beachfront lots than would have occurred in the absence of the Beachfront Management Act…However, in the 20 years since the Beachfront Management Act, the Committee was only able to find a few examples of voluntary relocation of structures from the setback area, and a limited number of cases of landward movement of structures within a beachfront parcel following storm damage.”
As part of the Shoreline Change Initiative, the SCAC published Adapting to Shoreline Change: A Foundation for Improved Management and Planning in South Carolina - Final Report of the Shoreline Change Advisory Committee (April 2010). The Report provides a comprehensive overview of South Carolina’s current shoreline management strategy, while also outlining adaptation recommendations for future coastal changes. Although the document does not address climate change directly, its four major “goals” can be easily applied to sea-level rise and coastal storm issues. These four major goals attempt to guide future beach management strategies, and are further comprised of thirteen general recommendations and numerous sub-recommendations. Most closely aligned with climate change adaptation objectives is Goal 1: Minimize Risks to Beachfront Communities. The five recommendations pertaining to Goal 1 are listed below. Recommendations 2 and 3 are especially important when considering sea-level rise adaptation.
Continuing South Carolina’s historically aggressive coastal management program, the SCAC also recommended increasing the minimum beachfront setback from 20 feet to 50 feet from the baseline. Directly responding to accelerated sea-level rise, the recommendation stated:
“The expanded setback area along beaches with slow rates of erosion or even accretion is desirable given projections of accelerated sea level rise and the potential for more intense storm events, and because the current restrictions do little to limit the size of buildings or placement of erosion control structures outside of the setback area but in close proximity to the primary dune or active beach.”
The SCAC further notes that the regular update of hazard mitigation plans does not currently account for the changing risks associated with climate change and sea level rise. As part of the regular required updating of these plans, it is suggested that counties and municipalities incorporate changing information on coastal risks.
As there has been some confusion amongst coastal stakeholders in South Carolina about the intent of the retreat policy, the Report also provides a good discussion on the rationale behind the State’s coastal management strategy (pp. 21-26).
The PowerPoint presentation titled Preliminary Findings of the South Carolina Shoreline Change Advisory Committee in October 2009 provides a summarized inventory of beachfront development and shoreline armoring along South Carolina’s coast. Overall there are approximately 3,850 habitable beachfront structures in South Carolina, approximately 36% of which are at least partially seaward of the setback line. Hard stabilization (a combination of seawalls and revetments) extends just over 24.3 miles.
Building upon the work of the Shoreline Change Advisory Committee, a new Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management in the Coastal Zone was formed to review the recommendations and make actual regulatory or statutory changes. Their final report Recommendations for improved beachfront management in South Carolina was issued in February 2013. Here are the recommendations:
These recommendations are being considered by the DHEC Board for regulatory promulgation.
South Carolina has also developed the Beachfront Digital Inventory, basically consisting of digital photos of habitable structures or erosion control structures within the jurisdictional setback area. The inventory also includes each structure’s GPS coordinates, as well as its specific attributes (type of erosion control structure, dimensions, etc.). Development of the digital inventory is hoped to help enforce the 40-year retreat policy by more easily allowing the SCDHEC-OCRM to identify which structures were present before a storm, those structures that have been destroyed, and those cannot be rebuilt (damaged erosion control structures for instance).
South Carolina’s Coastal Program serves on a “Crosscutting” Technical Work Group under the Governor’s Climate, Energy, and Commerce Advisory Committee (Executive Order 2007-04). The Technical Work Group focuses on highlighting coastal impacts and potential adaptation strategies.
In 2009 Sea Grant South Carolina sponsored an informational workshop series titled South Carolina’s Changing Shoreline: Implications for the Future. These workshops were intended to provide coastal community representatives updated information on shoreline change in the State. More information can be found on Sea Grant South Carolina’s website.
Another project currently underway is Guidance for South Carolina on Near-Term Coastal Adaptation Priorities. Led by the SCDHEC-OCRM, with support from state universities, the project attempts to identify climate vulnerabilities along the South Carolina coast, identify near-term adaptation priorities, and develop an adaptation guidebook designed for local and state governments in early 2011. The project will research the potential physical, social, and economic impacts of sea-level rise, coastal inundation, and storm surges on coastal regions. For more information, contact Dan Burger.
The Coastal and Inland Flood Observation and Warning (CIFLOW), a research and outreach program, has also been established to improve the ability of forecasters to pinpoint areas of potential flood and flash flood events, as well as model the interaction between inland flood waters and coastal storm surge. Partners include the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, the South Carolina and North Carolina Sea Grant programs, NOAA National Weather Service, and North Carolina State University.
DHEC is leading the South Carolina King Tides initiative to document the effect that extreme tide events have on our state’s beaches, coastal waterways, private property and public infrastructure. The term “King Tide” is a non-scientific term used to describe the highest seasonal tides that occur each year. For example, in Charleston, the average high tide range is about 5.5 ft., whereas during a King Tide event the high tide range may reach 7 ft. or higher. These tides occur naturally and are typically caused when a spring tide (when the sun, moon, and earth align during a new and full moon, increasing tide ranges) takes place when the moon is closest to Earth during the 28-day elliptical orbit (known as perigee). The effect of individual King Tides may vary considerably. In some cases, they may barely even be noticed. In other cases, a King Tide may cause coastal erosion, flooding of low-lying areas and disruption to normal daily routines. This is particularly true when a King Tide event coincides with significant precipitation because water drainage and runoff is impeded. Over time, the frequency and effect of King Tide events may increase due to gradual mean sea level rise. Also see DHEC's Coastal Hazards page.
Other community-level outreach programs and partnerships, such as the Charleston Area Project Impact and the residential hazards display house at 113 Calhoun Street, have also been established and are proving successful. See here for more information. The Sea Grant’s Coastal Communities Program also seeks to educate citizens and public officials about land use and associated impacts on natural resources. The Program provides science-based information and tools to enhance citizens and policy maker’s ability to address the pressures of coastal growth. For more information see here, or contact April Turner, Coastal Communities Specialist.
In 2007, the National Sea Grant Office and the NOAA Climate Office funded the establishment of a regional coastal climate extension position for both the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts.
The SCDHEC-OCRM website provides a wealth of information on South Carolina’s coastal management and initiatives.
Director, Coastal Services Division
SC DHEC - Ocean and Coastal Resource Management
P: 843-953-0251 / F: 843-953-0201
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
Ocean and Coastal Resource Management
EPA's Risk-Based Adaptation website (under the heading of Climate-Ready Estuaries) provides several resources and tools to help users identify, analyze, prioritize and reduce their climate change risks.
An informative publication is Ten Principles for Coastal Development (2007) by the Urban Land Institute.
The Coastal States Organization (CSO) has published two reports relating to climate change adaptation. The first is Coastal Community Resilience: An Evaluation of Resilience as a Potential Performance Measure of the Coastal Zone Management Act (July 2008). (No link to this could be found.) Developed by CSO staff and CSO’s Coastal Resilience Steering Committee, the document demonstrates the value of resilience to coastal management and offers concrete recommendations for enhancing resilience at the state and local level. The second document is The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs in Adaptation to Climate Change (September 2008)(PDF, 732KB). The report includes detailed results of a 2008 adaptation survey designed to obtain up to date information on the status of adaptation planning, priority information needs, and the anticipated resource needs of the coastal states, commonwealths, and territories.
In April 2009, the Heinz Center and Ceres announced the release of their Resilient Coasts - A Blueprint for Action, to outline steps to reduce risks and losses in the face of growing threats. The Heinz Center and Ceres produced the blueprint with a coalition of leading insurers, public officials, risk experts, builders, and conservation groups. The blueprint is endorsed by many groups, including The Travelers Institute, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wharton School, and the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. The blueprint includes policy changes and common sense actions that could reduce economic losses from future storms and rising sea levels by as much as half along U.S. coastlines. The blueprint outlines specific recommendations, including: enabling planning for climate impacts by providing the necessary science and decision-making tools; requiring risk-based land use planning; designing adaptable infrastructure and building code standards to meet future risk; strengthening ecosystems as part of a risk mitigation strategy; developing flexible adaptation plans; maintaining a viable private property and casualty insurance market; and integrating climate change impacts into due diligence for investment and lending. The coalition urges the Obama administration, Congress, local leaders and the private sector to see that blueprint actions are implemented through regulation, investment, education, and other means.
In January 2010 the National Association of Counties released Building Resilient Coastal Communities: Counties and the Digital Coast which highlights many of the Digital Coast resources that counties use to address coastal flooding, habitat conservation and land use. More resources, tools and data are available through NOAA's Digital Coast website.
More recently, NOAA Coastal Management has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.
StormSmart Coasts is a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards. StormSmart Legal is a new addition to the StormSmart Coasts Network that provides information about property rights, regulatory takings, and permissible government regulation in coastal areas.
In December 2012 NOAA's Climate Program Office released a report Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment. The report was produced in response to a request from the U.S. National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. It provides a synthesis of the scientific literature on global sea level rise, and a set of four scenarios of future global sea level rise. The report includes input from national experts in climate science, physical coastal processes, and coastal management.
NOAA's Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth website is organized into 10 chapters describing different elements essential for communities interested in implementing coastal and waterfront smart growth. By clicking on the individual chapters, you can get a description of each Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth Element, how this relates to the Coastal and Waterfront Issues, Tools and Techniques you can use in your community, and Case Studies of successes. Each chapter contains a navigation box allowing quick access to the information and the ability to download the content of each page. A 2012 report by NOAA and EPA on Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth presents ideas shared by smart growth and hazard mitigation experts related to building hazard-resilient coastal communities.
EPA has a website devoted to preparing for rising sea level and other consequences of changing climate. The premise of the Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise website is that society should take measures to make our coastal development and ecosystems less vulnerable to a rise in sea level. The papers on this site demonstrate that numerous low-cost measures, if implemented, would make the United States less vulnerable to rising sea level. A more recent EPA website is Adapting to Change.
Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities (USGS-NOAA, January 2013) emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change. The report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes. Case studies are presented for Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
In December 2012 the Lincoln Institute released Coastal States’ Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Sea Level Rise and Municipal Engagement (Working Paper). This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address sea level rise, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. It includes recommendations for ways states can provide adaptation support to municipalities.
Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures, (pdf, 1.2 MB) published in September 2013, discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capabilities to help reduce risks to coastal areas and improve resilience to coastal hazards through an integrated planning approach. Federal, state, local, non-governmental organization and private sector interests connected to our coastal communities possess a complementary set of authorities and capabilities for developing more integrated coastal systems. The effective implementation of an integrated approach to flood and coastal flood hazard mitigation relies on a collaborative, shared responsibility framework between Federal, state, and local agencies and the public.
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