State of the Beach/State Reports/SC/Beach Description
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The beaches of South Carolina are all on barrier islands or former barrier islands that have migrated onto the mainland. Hurricanes are relatively frequent occurrences, significantly affecting the shape of the coastline.
- Fact 1: Miles of Coast: 2,876
- Fact 2: 181 miles of open ocean shoreline
- Fact 3: Coastal Population (2000): 1,219,958
- Fact 4: 18% of the state's population lives within coastal counties
Contact Info for the Lead Coastal Zone Management Agency
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management
1362 McMillan Avenue, Suite 400
Charleston, SC 29405
Deputy Director, DHEC Ocean and Coastal Resource Management
Director, Coastal Services Division
SC DHEC - Ocean and Coastal Resource Management
P: 843-953-0251 / F: 843-953-0201
Coastal Zone Management Program
The South Carolina coastal zone includes all lands and waters in the eight counties of the state (Horry, Georgetown, Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Colleton, Beaufort and Jasper counties) that contain any one or more “critical areas,” which are defined as coastal waters, tidelands, beaches, and the beach/dune system. The coastal program has direct permitting authority over land-disturbing activities in the critical areas of the coastal zone and indirect management authority of coastal resources within the coastal zone outside of the designated critical areas. Indirect authority is exercised through the review and certification of any project requiring a Federal or state permit. State consistency, like Federal consistency authority, ensures that proposed actions are consistent with the policies and procedures of the South Carolina Coastal Management Program (SCCMP).
The primary authority for the coastal program is the 1977 Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands Act. It authorized the establishment of the South Carolina Coastal Council (now DHEC-OCRM) to be administered by an executive director and staff, defined the Council’s powers and duties, and provided for the development of a comprehensive coastal management program in South Carolina. In July 1988, the State General Assembly passed the South Carolina Beachfront Management Act. This Act, which was subsequently amended in 1990 and formally incorporated into the federally-approved SCCMP, requires the use of scientific studies of coastal processes to establish precise building setback lines along the coast, bans the future construction of seawalls, limits the size of buildings within the predicted erosion zone, enacts damage assessment procedures, and adopts a policy of retreat away from the erosional beach. The Act requires the adoption of local comprehensive beachfront management plans by local governments.
The SCCMP was further refined by the State in 1993 with the codification of a number of existing guidelines, policies, and plans. These refinements included wetland and dock master planning required as part of consistency certification, freshwater wetland mitigation guidelines, procedures for the conduct of Special Area Management Plans, the developed State Beachfront Management Plan and Local Comprehensive Beach Management Plans and the notification and procedural process for appeals of state and Federal consistency certification. The stormwater management guidelines, in place since 1984, were incorporated into the South Carolina Stormwater Management and Sediment Reduction Act of 1991. Regulations to implement this statute became effective in 1992.
In 1993, the South Carolina General Assembly passed the State Restructuring Act (SRA), which abolished the Coastal Council; transferred the Council’s executive director and staff to the DHEC into what is now called the South Carolina Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (SC OCRM); and created the Coastal Zone Management Appellate Panel (AP) to serve as an advisory council to DHEC, with members of the Coastal Council becoming members of the AP and continuing to serve until their terms expire. The role of permit decision-making was assumed by SCCMP staff.
South Carolina's coastal program is designed to protect marine resources from declining water quality, protect fish habitats such as wetlands, and reduce the risk to coastal property from storms and other hazards. To meet these challenges, the program oversees any proposed wetlands filling and commercial and residential construction, including docks and piers. The program also sets construction back a safe distance from the ocean. Tourism, forestry, agriculture, and fishing are some of the state's largest coastal industries.
The Council on Coastal Futures was organized in 2002 to assess coastal rules and make recommendations to the Department of Health and Environmental Control. The 18-member committee is comprised of environmentalists, businesspeople, scientists, lawmakers and public officials. The council issued its final report Setting a New Course for the Coast in May 2004.
The Council's 18 recommendations were:
- Improve internal DHEC coordination to ensure concurrent and expedited permit review.
- Improve cooperation between DHEC-OCRM and other agencies.
- Implement a mandatory mediation program for all DHEC-OCRM permit appeals.
- Improve the DHEC-OCRM public notices.
- Clarify that conditions on DHEC-OCRM critical area permits continue for the life of the permit.
- Build capacity at DHEC-OCRM to be a center of technical expertise for local governments.
- Continue DHEC implementation of the state stormwater permitting program.
- Improve water quality by managing stormwater on a watershed basis.
- Encourage construction of community docks in lieu of multiple private docks.
- Encourage voluntary dock planning by cooperating landowners.
- Develop statewide legislation for managing freshwater wetlands.
- Identify marina dredging issues and problems, evaluate technologies and recommend preferred alternatives for spoil disposal.
- Review DHEC’s septic tank policy.
- Determine strategies and alternative funding sources for public beach access.
- Fund the State Beach Renourishment Trust Fund.
- Allow and encourage innovative stormwater best management practices (BMPs) and standards.
- Develop a strategy for maintaining and inspecting stormwater BMPs.
- Establish formal partnerships between DHEC-OCRM and state research institutions.
NOAA's latest evaluation of South Carolina's Coastal Management Program can be found here.
- Bernd-Cohen, T. and M. Gordon. "State Coastal Program Effectiveness in Protecting Natural Beaches, Dunes, Bluffs, and Rock Shores." Coastal Management 27:187-217, 1999.
- Bernd-Cohen, T. and M. Gordon. "State Coastal Program Effectiveness in Protecting Natural Beaches, Dunes, Bluffs, and Rock Shores." Coastal Management 27:187-217. 1999.
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