State of the Beach/Model Programs/Shoreline Structures

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Shoreline Structures

Below, examples pertaining to shoreline structures follow an outline of the Surfrider Foundation's goals in this area.

Shoreline Structures Goals

  • An accurate and up to date inventory of the location and type of shoreline structures.
  • Comprehensive long-term monitoring of effectiveness and for adverse impacts and cumulative effects.
  • Preference for alternatives to shoreline structures.
  • Public education about alternatives to shoreline structures, and the potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects associated with them.
  • Ideally, no new shoreline structures.
  • No permanent structures approved under 'emergency' conditions.

Program Examples


While Chapter 7:7E-7.11 of the New Jersey Administrative Code states that non-structural solutions to shoreline erosion problems are preferred over structural solutions, the construction, expansion, or fortification of shore protection structures are acceptable only if the following five conditions are met:

  • The structure is essential to protect water dependent uses or heavily used public recreation beach areas in danger from tidal waters or erosion, or the structure is essential to protect existing structures and infrastructure in developed shorefront areas in danger from erosion, or the structure is essential to mitigate, through, for example, the construction of a retained earthen berm, the projected erosion in an erosion hazard area along a headland and provide erosion protection for a development that is otherwise acceptable under the Rules on Coastal Zone Management
  • The structure will not cause significant adverse impacts on local shoreline sand supply
  • The structure will not create net adverse shoreline sand movement downdrift, including erosion or shoaling
  • The structure will cause minimum feasible adverse impact to living marine and estuarine resources
  • The structure is consistent with the State's Shore Protection Master Plan


North Carolina does not permit hardened structures under the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA). There are exceptions made on a case-by-case basis.

The Coastal Resources Commission ban on seawalls has been incorporated into law. The NC Coastal Area Management Act was amended to permanently ban these structures.

§ 113A-115.1 Limitations on erosion control structures.

a. As used in this section:
1. "Erosion control structure" means a breakwater, bulkhead, groin, jetty, revetment, seawall, or any similar structure.
2. "Ocean shoreline" means the Atlantic Ocean, the oceanfront beaches, and frontal dunes. The term "ocean shoreline" includes an ocean inlet and lands adjacent to an ocean inlet but does not include that portion of any inlet and lands adjacent to the inlet that exhibits characteristics of estuarine shoreline.
b. No person shall construct a permanent erosion control structure in an ocean shoreline. The Commission shall not permit the construction of a temporary erosion control structure that consists of anything other than sandbags in an ocean shoreline. This section shall not apply to (i) any permanent erosion control structure that is approved pursuant to an exception set out in a rule adopted by the Commission prior to 1 July 2003 or (ii) any permanent erosion control structure that was originally constructed prior to 1 July 1974 and that has since been in continuous use to protect an inlet that is maintained for navigation. This section shall not be construed to limit the authority of the Commission to adopt rules to designate or protect areas of environmental concern, to govern the use of sandbags, or to govern the use of erosion coastal structures in estuarine shorelines.

According to North Carolina Administrative Code Title 15A, Chapter 7H, section .0308 1(B): Permanent erosion control structures may cause significant adverse impacts on the value and enjoyment of adjacent properties or public access to and use of the ocean beach, and, therefore, are prohibited. Such structures include, but are not limited to: bulkheads; seawalls; revetments; jetties; groins and breakwaters.

North Carolina allows temporary erosion control structures in the form of sandbags. Rules for these structures can be found in the NCAC Title 15A, Chapter 7H, section .0308 2(A)-(N). Rules 2(A)-(C) state that: Permittable temporary erosion control structures shall be limited to sandbags placed above mean high water and parallel to the shore.

Temporary erosion control structures as defined in Part (2)(A) of this Subparagraph may be used only to protect imminently threatened roads and associated right of ways, and buildings and associated septic systems. A structure will be considered to be imminently threatened if its foundation septic system, or right-of-way in the case of roads, is less than 20 feet away from the erosion scarp. Buildings and roads located more than 20 feet from the erosion scarp or in areas where there is no obvious erosion scarp may also be found to be imminently threatened when site conditions, such as a flat beach profile or accelerated erosion, tend to increase the risk of imminent damage to the structure.

Temporary erosion control structures may be used to protect only the principal structure and its associated septic system, but not such appurtenances as gazebos, decks or any amenity that is allowed as an exception to the erosion setback requirement.

The complete text of North Carolina's Administrative Code Title 15 A, Chapter 7, Subchapter 7H, Section 0.0300 Ocean Hazard Areas is available online.

For a more user-friendly overview of these policies check out the NCDCM Coastal Hazards and Storm Information website.


Through its ocean shores rules the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) administers a permit program for ocean shore alterations. This includes the construction of shoreline protective structures, beach access ways, dune grading and other sand alterations, the routing of pipelines and cables beneath the ocean shore, marine algae collection, and natural product removal.

According to ORS 390.655 Standards for improvement permits. The State Parks and Recreation Department shall consider applications and issue permits under ORS 390.650 in accordance with standards designed to promote the public health, safety and welfare and carry out the policy of ORS 390.610, 390.620 to 390.676, 390.690 and 390.705 to 390.770. The standards shall be based on the following considerations, among others:

  • The public need for healthful, safe, esthetic surroundings and conditions; the natural scenic, recreational and other resources of the area; and the present and prospective need for conservation and development of those resources.
  • The physical characteristics or the changes in the physical characteristics of the area and suitability of the area for particular uses and improvements.
  • The land uses, including public recreational use if any, and the improvements in the area, the trends in land uses and improvements, the density of development and the property values in the area.
  • The need for recreation and other facilities and enterprises in the future development of the area and the need for access to particular sites in the area. [1969 c.601 §11; 1979 c.186 §22]

Statewide Planning Goal 17 Implementation Requirement 5 states that: "Land-use management practices and non-structural solutions to problems of erosion and flooding shall be preferred to structural solutions. Where shown to be necessary, water and erosion control structures, such as jetties, bulkheads, seawalls, and similar protective structures; and fill, whether located in the waterways or on shorelands above ordinary high water mark, shall be designed to minimize adverse impacts on water currents, erosion, and accretion patterns."

Statewide Planning Goal 18 Implementation Requirement 5 states that: "Permits for beachfront protective structures shall be issued only where development existed on January 1, 1977. Local comprehensive plans shall identify areas where development existed on January 1, 1977. For the purposes of this requirement and Implementation Requirement 7 "development" means houses, commercial and industrial buildings, and vacant subdivision lots which are physically improved through of streets and provision of utilities to the lot and includes areas where an exception to (2) above has been approved. The criteria for review of all shore and beachfront protective structures shall provide that:

  • visual impacts are minimized;
  • necessary access to the beach is maintained;
  • negative impacts on adjacent property are minimized; and
  • long-term or recurring costs to the public are avoided."


According to Bernd-Cohen and Gordon (1999), the Rhode Island coastal program regulates defined coastal features. The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) regulates activities within and 200 feet landward of coastal beaches and dunes, barrier beaches, bluffs, cliffs, banks, rocky shores, and manmade shorelines. Complex coastal zoning designates what types of activities are permissible on shoreline features, tied to six state water classifications. About 75% of the shoreline is adjacent to Type I Waters (conservation) or Type II Waters (low intensity use areas), where alteration or construction of shoreline features and undeveloped beaches is prohibited. In addition, activities are regulated by different setbacks from beaches and dunes, critical erosion areas, and coastal buffer zones. There are also regulations for specific types of activities, such as dredging, filling, and new residential structures, as well as 17 designated coastal hazard areas and 18 identified erosion-prone areas. On the dunes of barrier beaches, residential or non-water dependent structures destroyed by more than 50% may not be rebuilt regardless of insurance carrier coverage. Additions are allowed to structures designated for priority permissible uses. CRMC policies prohibit new development on undeveloped and moderately developed barrier beaches. Data show that at least 65% of all barrier beaches have had no new permitted development or shoreline stabilizations since 1971.

The complete text of Rhode Island's Coastal Zone Buffer Program can be found on the Stormwater Managers Resource Center website.

Rhode Island state policy prohibits the construction of new hardened structures on barriers, headlands, and other coastal features abutting Type 1 waters, and on barriers and coastal wetlands anywhere in the state. Type 1 waters are defined as areas that are unsuitable for structures due to their exposure to severe wave action, flooding, and erosion, or areas adjacent to wildlife refuges and conservation areas. All land with open ocean exposure falls into this category (see above).

Information regarding prohibitions on armoring is detailed in CRMC's 1995 Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Plan.


South Carolina law 'Alterations Seaward of Baseline and Setback Line' states that no new erosion control structures may be built seaward of the setback line except to protect a public road that existed before the Beachfront Management Act went into effect.

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. Existing erosion control structures may be maintained, but not enlarged, strengthened, or rebuilt. If they are destroyed, they must be removed by the owner.

Definition of "destroyed" is as follows (determined by a registered professional engineer):

  • Until June 30, 2005, a structure is destroyed if damage is greater than 66%
  • After June 30, 2005, a structure is destroyed if damage is greater than 50%

Source: Lennon, G. et al. (1996). Living with the South Carolina Coast and SCORMP