State of the Beach/State Reports/SC

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South Carolina


South Carolina has good information and generally good policies on beach erosion, fill, and shoreline structures. Notably, South Carolina is one of the few states that has managed retreat incorporated in state policy: however, it will still be a continuing struggle to resist requests to build shoreline structures. Approximately 30% of their developed coastline (90 miles) is already "stabilized" by shoreline structures. A survey and report on beach access ("Assessing Recreational Needs at South Carolina Beaches") was published in September 2006. Expanding the geographic extent of the ocean water quality monitoring program and requiring prompt data reporting and posting of beach closure advisories would enhance this program.

South Carolina Ratings


(+) South Carolina is one of the few states that has managed retreat incorporated in state policy. The 40-year retreat policy is clearly codified in South Carolina's Code of Laws and requires the Department of Health and Environmental Control to implement this policy based on the best scientific information available.

(+) In 2015 the South Carolina Dept. of Health and Environmental Control, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, released a new public beach access web and mobile application. The app can be accessed on your desktop, smart phone, or tablet. Users are able to easily search over 600 public beach access locations along the coast, including specific amenities. The amenities highlighted include parking, restrooms, showers, seasonal lifeguards, handicap access/parking, public transit, and beach parks. Every site listed has been field-verified by DHEC staff and data within the application will be updated on a regular basis.

(+) Bill S.139, a piece of legislation seven years in the making, was introduced in the South Carolina Legislature in 2014. The primary intention of the bill is to prevent development on accreted land (landmass added to the shoreline by shifting sands) beyond the current baseline, the line seaward of which you cannot build. The law would essentially “freeze” the baseline, which has been designated by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, at where it sits now. More. The bill was signed into law in June 2016 and earned Rep. Bill Herbkersman the Coastal Conservation League's Coastal Steward of the Year Award, despite intense lobbying by development interests.

(+) In December 2014 the State Supreme Court voted 3-2 against granting a permit for a seawall and revetment on Sam's Spit - the wildlife-rich, 150-acre spit that is a prized piece of disappearing natural coast. The vote reversed and remanded an earlier Supreme Court decision that allowed the walls, and is the third divided vote by the court on the issue.

"As recognized by the General Assembly, there is often great value in allowing nature to take its course, rather than having our coast become an armored, artificial landscape," said Justice Kaye Hearn.

(+) The South Carolina Beachfront Jurisdiction web application was developed to enable efficient access to key information by coastal stakeholders and decision-makers. Users of the application can quickly navigate to specific beaches or properties, view state jurisdictional line locations and adopted long-term erosion rates. Technical users of the site may also download beachfront survey information packets, which contain jurisdictional line coordinates, adopted long-term erosion rates and survey monument locations.

(+) 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 will 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.

(+) 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. It also would apply to undeveloped lots.

(+) In March 2011 the City of Myrtle Beach published a detailed 91-page Beach Access Inventory consisting of a series of aerial photographs of beach access locations.

(+) In October 2009 the Governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia announced an agreement to work together to better manage and protect ocean and coastal resources, ensure regional economic sustainability and respond to disasters such as hurricanes. The South Atlantic Alliance will leverage resources from each state to protect and maintain healthy coastal ecosystems, keep waterfronts working, enhance clean ocean and coastal waters and help make communities more resilient after they’ve been struck by natural disasters. In December 2010 the Governors' South Atlantic Alliance officially released the final Action Plan. The Action Plan focuses on four priority topic areas: healthy ecosystems, working waterfronts, clean coastal and ocean waters, and disaster-resilient communities. Each priority area contains specific goals, actions and objectives designed to protect and promote the invaluable natural, cultural and economic resources of each state and the region as a whole. The Alliance will work with political leaders and other stakeholders during summer 2011 to decide how the Action Plan will be implemented.

(+) An ocean planning effort has been initiated to explore research and planning issues related to ocean resources in South Carolina. An Ocean Planning Work Group with representatives from federal and state agencies and academic institutions will meet with experts and stakeholders on various issues over the course of the next several years to develop a plan to guide future ocean research, data collection and mapping; policies and decisions of agencies with ocean authorities; and ocean education programs.

(+) South Carolina's Beachfront Management Act calls for a gradual retreat of new development from the coast. However, building pressures continue from Cherry Grove to Hilton Head Island.

(+) The Town of Hilton Head has a general policy of discouraging development on any of its beachfront across the entire island. It passed an ordinance blocking any further construction along South Forest Beach. They are opposing state proposals to shift the beachfront baseline seaward in areas where beach renourishment projects have been conducted.

(+) South Carolina’s coastal setbacks are based on local average coastal erosion rates. The average coastal erosion rate is multiplied by 40 with a minimum setback distance of 20 feet.

(+) Since 2000, North Myrtle Beach has spent $13 million for four stormwater ocean outfalls, and they plan to spend $30 to $40 million for six more over the next 20 years. The city has also rerouted drainage away from the ocean as part of road improvement projects, incorporating "smart growth" principles by encouraging clustering of development, larger open spaces and buffers to minimize runoff.

(+) The Lowcountry Open Land Trust acquired conservation easements placed on 16 tracts of land throughout coastal South Carolina, adding 18,967 protected acres in 2008. The acreage total was most significantly boosted by the addition of a 12,500-acre Brosnan Forest easement in Dorchester County, which was donated by Norfolk Southern Corp. The Lowcountry Open Land Trust now conserves 76,546 acres across the Lowcountry, totaling more than 220 properties.

(+) The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control was awarded a $3.1 million non-point source pollution grant from U.S. EPA. Projects will include water quality monitoring, outreach and education, and the creation and revision of agricultural waste permits. There will also be $2.1 million in state and local matching funds for these projects.

(+) The South Carolina Code of Laws includes provisions requiring communities to prepare comprehensive beach management plans. These plans include an inventory of public beach access sites and associated parking, as well as a plan for enhancing public access and parking.

(+) Following passage of the 1988 Beachfront Management Act, the Coastal Council established a beach monitoring program that measures beach profiles twice a year at approximately 400 locations along the coast.

(+) South Carolina is receiving three grants from NOAA totaling $4.5 million to continue implementation of the state's coastal zone management program; for a Land Use-Coastal Ecosystem Study; and to measure the impacts of urbanization on coastal estuaries.

(0) During the 1990s, the state spent an average of about $3 million annually on beach fill projects. Data collected by the Developed Shorelines Program shows the 78 projects on beaches in South Carolina since the 1950s have cost hundreds of millions dollars.

(-) Despite having nearly 40% of the coast listed as highly vulnerable to sea level rise, the state does not have any plan or strategy for responding or adapting to sea level rise. This may stem from the state government's apathy towards the issue, not having any particular regulation requiring policymakers to take sea-level rise projections into account in land use planning.

(-) An article published in the Post and Courier in May 2015 stated that state regulators have approved a new permit that would allow development of Captain Sam’s Spit. The move came a little more than five months after the state Supreme Court ruled against granting an earlier permit. The DHEC stormwater permit provides for the construction of a sheet pile wall nearly a half-mile long that will hold up a road across the narrow neck of the spit to the high ground where 50 homes are proposed. The permit also allows preliminary work on sites for the homes. Captain Sam’s Spit is a wildlife-rich,150-acre sand strip along Captain Sam’s Inlet between Kiawah and Seabrook islands. Like other inlet areas, it is continually reshaped by waves and wind, eroding and accreting. The spit was left undeveloped while most of the rest of the island was built on, and is now one of the few undeveloped barrier island spits the public has ready access to because of the adjacent Beachwalker Park.

(-) In October 2014 it was disclosed that a seawall had been illegally installed at the Wild Dunes condominium complex and hidden under the sandbags that have been present there for several years. DHEC has fined Wild Dunes $750,000 for this violation.

(-) The SC legislature passed a bill in June 2014 which allows a change South Carolina law so property owners at DeBordieu Beach can rebuild a 4,000-foot seawall that protects fewer than 25 high-end houses. Approving a new seawall for DeBordieu could prompt other ocean-threatened communities to seek the same consideration, weakening the 1988 Beachfront Management Act which banned seawalls. April 2015 update.

(-) A beach fill project at Folly Beach in 2014 experienced major problems. For more on that, see Chris Dixon's article on The Post and Courier.

(-) Recommendation 1 of the February 2013 report Recommendations for improved beachfront management in South Carolina reads: "Replace language regarding the policy of retreat with the following: The policy of the state of South Carolina is the preservation of its coastal beachfront and beach/dune system." Although this may not sound bad, it represents significant backsliding from the policies of the Beachfront Management Act in 1988. There is concern that the term “beachfront” may be arbitrarily defined to include infrastructure and habitable development, and that applying a broad policy of preservation to include these features would undermine efforts to relocate and guide development away from unstable beaches and preserve naturally occurring features, such as primary and secondary dune fields and native vegetation.

(-) Despite a state policy of “retreat” — or moving back new construction from the beach — DHEC regulators have loosened development rules for hundreds of seaside lots since 1988. Parts of the Beachfront Management Law are at odds with each other: While one section calls for gradual retreat from the dynamic shoreline, another section says the state can push forward the lines controlling where development can occur in areas that have been renourished.

(-) There is no state requirement that sewage treatment plant operators notify the public when there’s a spill.

(-) After a large beach fill project at North Myrtle Beach in the late 1990s, state regulators moved setback lines seaward by 50 to 100 feet in the center of Cherry Grove. This allowed the construction of four oceanfront condominium towers on a low-lying, flood-prone shoreline. 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.

(-) Proposals under review by state legislators in early 2006 could potentially overturn laws adopted nearly two decades ago to protect beaches from erosion. Measures could allow swimming pools closer to the beach, allow more filling of wetlands and more construction of bridges to salt marsh islands.

(-) The Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management has maintained that groins are not prohibited by state laws regulating the use of erosion-control structures on the beach. Also, state legislators changed the law in 2002 to make it easier to get groin-construction permits.


  • Improved Special Needs Access at Surfside Beach The Grand Strand Chapter secured a commitment from the town of Surfside Beach, SC to construct a wheelchair-accessible ramp at the 13th Avenue South beach access.
  • Folly Beach, SC Bans Bags, Foam, and Balloons from the Beach Building on earlier victory in passage of a separate ordinance passed in September, 2016 that bans retail distribution of plastic bags as well as foam coolers and food service wares, this ordinance bans plastic bags, expanded foam food and drink containers, and balloons from the beach. Violators of the ordinance could face a $500 fine or up to 30 days in jail.
  • Folly Beach, SC Plastic Bag and Foam Cooler Ordinance On September 13, 2016, Folly Beach passed an ordinance to prohibit retail distribution of single-use plastic shopping bags as well as foam coolers and takeout wares to decrease litter and ocean pollution. The ordinance would require that all retail establishments and food vendors only provide recycled paper bags or reusable bags as checkout bags for customers, and would also restrict the sale of foam coolers. The ordinance was introduced by the Charleston Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League in an effort to protect the pristine Folly Beach environment. Single-use plastic bags are detrimental to the environment, acting as an eye sore on salt marshes, and harming wildlife such as threatened and endangered sea turtles.
  • Isle of Palms Enacts Plastic Bag Ban The Isle of Palms, located in the South Carolina Lowcountry is the first city in the state to ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags by retailers to consumers. The Isle of Palms Council voted unanimously in favor of the ban at its June 23, 2015 council meeting. The ordinance prohibits a person from providing single-use carryout bags at any city facility, city-sponsored event, or any event held on city property, and also prohibits any business establishment within city limits from providing single-use carryout bags to its customers. The ban will go into effect in six months. The Surfrider Foundation Charleston Chapter supported Isle of Palms resident Kathy Kent who led the charge on the Ban the Bag movement for the island.
  • Morris Island land purchase The long saga of potential development on Morris Island came to a happy conclusion in early 2006 when the latest owner agreed to sell the property to the Trust for Public Land. The Charleston Chapter of Surfrider Foundation is proud to have played an important role in achieving this victory. Earlier, the Charleston chapter, along with coalition partners, was successful in getting the James Island Town Council to pass the resolution opposing the development of 20 luxury homes on this pristine barrier island and historical Civil War battle site.
  • Grand Strand Chapter volunteers combined forces with "Keep North Myrtle Beach Beautiful" to assemble and mount 16 litter bag dispenser boxes at beach accesses in North Myrtle Beach.

To see all of Surfrider Foundation's coastal victories and campaigns, go here.

State of the Beach Report: South Carolina
South Carolina Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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