State of the Beach/State Reports/GA/Shoreline Structures
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The primary State management authority for shoreline stabilization and beach erosion control is embodied in the Shore Protection Act. The Coastal Resources Division, through the Shore Protection Committee, issues permits for any shoreline engineering activity or land alteration on beaches, sand dunes, bars, or submerged shoreline lands. The Shore Protection Act contains provisions for two distinct alternatives in addressing shoreline erosion. The first alternative, erosion control activities, includes beach restoration and renourishment, artificial dune construction, and construction and maintenance of groins and jetties. The second alternative, shoreline stabilization, includes construction of revetments.
The Shore Protection Act O.C.G.A. 12-5-230, et seq.
- Protects sand dunes, beaches, sandbars, and shoals
- Limits construction activity to temporary structures by permit only
- Prohibits motorized vehicles on dunes and beaches without a beach driving permit
- Prohibits docks, marinas, boat ramps, storage facilities in dunes
- Establishes Shore Protection Committee
The Shore Protection Act is the primary legal authority for protection and management of Georgia's shoreline features including sand dunes, beaches, sandbars, and shoals, collectively known as the sand-sharing system. Its jurisdiction includes the submerged shoreline lands out to the three mile limit of State ownership, the sand beaches to ordinary high water mark, and the "dynamic dune field", which is defined as the dynamic area of the beach and sand dunes. The ocean boundary of the dynamic dune field extends to the ordinary high water mark, and the landward boundary of the dynamic dune field is the first occurrence of either a live native tree 20 feet in height or greater, or a structure existing on July 1, 1979.
The Shore Protection Act limits activities in shore areas and requires a permit for certain activities and structures on the beach. Construction activity in sand dunes is limited to temporary structures such as crosswalks, and then only by permit from the Georgia Coastal Resources Division. Structures such as boat basins, docks, marinas, and boat ramps are not allowed in the dunes. The Shore Protection Act prohibits operation of any motorized vehicle on or over the dynamic dune fields and beaches, except as authorized for emergency vehicles, and governmental vehicles for beach maintenance or research. The Shore Protection Act also prohibits storage or parking of sailboats, catamarans, or other marine craft in the dynamic dune field. Direct permitting authority regarding any proposed facilities located within the jurisdictional area of the Shore Protection Act lies with the Shore Protection Committee. These permits are administered by the Georgia Coastal Resources Division. The Coastal Resources Division does not initiate erosion control activities. Permit applications for erosion control activities are made to the Division by the governing entity or private owner of the barrier island on which the activity is proposed. Beach restoration and renourishment techniques are preferable to shoreline stabilization activities since stabilization structures separate land from sea by maintaining the shoreline at its present position. Permits are granted for shoreline stabilization structures when the applicant has demonstrated that loss of property due to erosion is inevitable and that no reasonable or viable alternative exists.
Erosion control activities include beach restoration and renourishment, sand dune construction, and the construction and maintenance of groins and jetties. Local government units and private owners of barrier islands are encouraged to develop comprehensive beach erosion control programs that include continuous monitoring of erosion and accretion rates. Permittees of erosion control activities are required to conduct monitoring of the project's effectiveness and possible adverse impacts to adjacent properties. Permit applications must include beach monitoring (profile) data. Permittees of erosion control activities must also post a cash forfeiture bond payable to the State to cover the expenses of removal or modification of structures deemed responsible for adverse impacts to adjacent properties.
Geogia’s Coastal Management Program does permit some coastal armoring projects that exceed 200 linear feet. For smaller projects the homeowners can undertake construction without a permit.
The Fall 1997 South Carolina Sea Grant Coastal Heritage Publication Armoring the Coast: Beachfront Battles over Seawalls states that 80% of Georgia’s developed shoreline is armored. The source of this information is not stated and Surfrider Foundation has been unable to verify it.
Approximately 55% of the 19 miles of beach shoreline on Tybee, Sea, St. Simons, and Jekyll Islands have been armored with seawalls or riprap revetments. Tybee Island has a long history of coastal armoring with 3 groins and a seawall placed near Fort Screven around the late 1800s. These structures were destroyed by massive hurricanes with 8-12 foot storm surges.
Information was on the extent of shoreline armoring in Georgia was not readily available on state agency Websites.
Shore stabilization structures are prevalent on St. Simons Island's beach, which has never been artificially renourished.
In December 2015 Georgia Department of Natural Resources approved construction of a groin on Sea Island, a potentially precedent-setting move that could be harmful to wildlife and to nearby St. Simons Island. Sea Island Acquisitions LLC wants to build a 350-foot rock groin about a quarter mile south of an existing groin at the Cloister Reserve on the Sea Island Spit. Significantly, the company has plans for eight multimillion dollar homes on the spit, a slender slice of land at the south end of the island. It’s land already deemed so unstable and unsafe that structures built there are not eligible for federal flood insurance or federal disaster relief. More info. In January 2016, Surfrider Foundation, on behalf of its Georgia Chapter, and the Altamaha Riverkeeper, filed an administrative appeal challenging the Georgia Shore Protection Committee’s decision to permit construction of the groin. On July 13, 2016 the Surfrider Foundation was scheduled to present closing arguments in its administrative challenge against the proposed rock groin.
The Nature Conservancy has raised $25.9 million for projects including the protection of more than 23,000 acres around the Altamaha and the Georgia coast and the installation of living shorelines on Sapelo and Little St. Simons islands. The latter project looked at new ways to shield Georgia’s coast from storms and erosion while boosting a dwindling oyster population. Collaborating with state and federal government agencies as well as local volunteers, the project evaluated the use of bagged oyster shells and native plants rather than concrete and other hardened structures to protect shorelines. More info
The Fiscal Year 2017 Civil Works Budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides $4.62 billion in gross discretionary funding for the Civil Works program. This budget lists proposed projects and the associated budget justification by state.
Jill C. Huntington
Coastal Management Specialist
GA DNR/Coastal Management Program
One Conservation Way, Suite 300
Brunswick, GA 31520
Public Education Program
The Coastal Management Program operates the Coastal Ark, a mobile training and education platform that allows the GCMP to carry technical assistance and educational materials to local governments, classrooms, public festivals, and other events throughout the state. The Coastal Ark is outfitted with computers, resource mapping software and data, and other tools needed by local planners and decision makers.
Coastal Ark Coordinator
“Living shorelines” is an increasingly popular approach to erosion control that uses strategically placed plants, stone and sand to deflect wave action, conserve soil and simultaneously provide critical shoreline habitat. Living shorelines often stand up to wave energy better than solid bulkheads or revetments, which add to the problem by amplifying waves on neighboring shores. Here is a link to a recent article on this subject:
Also see this Maryland DNR brochure on Living Shorelines.
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