State of the Beach/State Reports/SC/Shoreline Structures

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South Carolina Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access98
Water Quality54
Beach Erosion8-
Erosion Response-6
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures 7 5
Beach Ecology4-
Surfing Areas25
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


South Carolina state law states that no new erosion control structures or devices are allowed seaward of the setback line, defined as the sand dune crest in most areas. The outright prohibition of hard structures on an active beach was modified in 2002. Shoreline structures are allowed to protect a public highway and new groins can be built on beaches where beach replenishment efforts are in place and if the effects of the groins on other beaches are monitored. Shoreline structures cannot be enlarged or rebuilt. The structures can be maintained. When destroyed, the structures must be removed by the owner. Folly Beach is exempt from such rules. See Beachfront Management.

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, 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.[1]

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

Although the 2001 Assessment and Report indicated that there had been no recent changes to these policies, OCRM has maintained that groins are not prohibited by state laws regulating the use of erosion-control structures on the beach.[2]

After a state Court of Appeals ruling in 2001 upheld the hard structure prohibition, state legislators changed the law in 2002. Groins now can be built, but only if they are part of ongoing beach fill projects, and only if the effects on other beaches are monitored. The groins must be removed and the other beaches repaired if damage is found.

A project was approved by DHEC in June 2011 that allows property owners in the exclusive Debordieu community to renourish the south end of Debordieu and install three groins. Of particular concern in this case is the potential for increased erosion at North Inlet, one of the nation's cleanest tidal estuaries and a centerpiece of the University of South Carolina's Baruch Marine Field Laboratory. Experts hired by environmental groups and the Baruch Foundation said the plan might slow beach erosion at Debordieu, but it would undoubtedly increase erosion just downstream at North Inlet's two-mile-long beach. The Baruch Foundation owns and protects the North Inlet area for research by the University of South Carolina and other colleges.

Also in Debordieu, several dozen high-end homes lie behind a seawall that for over 30 years has shielded the resort from flooding. Now, since the wooden seawall is beginning to fail, homeowners there are asking the state to replace much of the seawall. Their plan, written into a bill that was being considered by the state Senate in early 2014, would not only allow Debordieu to rebuild the 4,000-foot-long bulkhead, but it could let the community erect a wall farther out on the shore. A new wall would be 1.5 to 2 feet beyond the old wall, according to one engineer’s report. If the law passes as proposed, other eroding beach communities could seek the same exemptions from South Carolina’s 1988 seawall ban. Read more. Unfortunately, the SC legislature passed a bill in June 2014 which allows the seawall to be built. Buried in the state budget, the measure gives the property owners a year to gain approval from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to reconstruct the bulkhead. Update from April 2015. Update from February 2017.

DHEC's Critical Area Permitting Regulations provide guidelines for development within the coastal zone, while still providing protection for coastal resources. Regarding jetties and offshore breakwaters, this document states:

"Jetties and offshore breakwaters interfere with the natural transport of sediment and therefore require special permits. They shall only be permitted after thorough analysis of the project demonstrates that there will be no negative effect on adjacent areas."

More on critical areas permitting.

In January 2006, the Town of Hilton Head Island took a step toward assuming management control of the 25 privately-owned groins that exist along Hilton Head beach. The Town Council's Public Facilities Committee recommended that the city seek control over the structures as one of the first steps in creating an overall beach management plan. The part of the plan concerning groins was pushed so the town could include any construction work with its next beach fill project, scheduled sometime in the 2006-2007 time frame. If the city council approves the committee's recommendations, town staff will begin negotiating with the property owners' associations in each area to work out an ownership agreement.

According to information on NOAA's Office of Ocean and Coastal Management website, a specific shoreline structure issue that is growing in importance is the construction of private residential docks and piers. The number of dock permit requests has increased significantly over the last few decades and dock authorizations are now the single most frequently sought permit from coastal managers. For example, the number of dock permit requests received each year in South Carolina increased ten fold over the past two decades from 80 to over 800.

Many coastal managers and citizens are concerned about this proliferation of docks and the potential impacts numerous private docks may have on the environment, navigation, and the ability of the public to access the waterfront. Coastal zone managers have expressed a need for credible, relevant, and high quality scientific analysis of the issue. In response, NOAA's National Ocean Service has sponsored workshops and developed white papers and other resource tools to help coastal managers with their small dock and pier management needs. Also see this Critical Area and Wetland Permitting - Overview, which has links to information which reflects some of the results of the NOAA workshops.

South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 48, Chapter 39 Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands (Section 48-39-10: Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands Act and Section 48-39-250: Beachfront Management Act). The following sections the Beachfront Management Act address shoreline structures:

SECTION 48-39-250. Legislative findings regarding the coastal beach/dune system.

(5) The use of armoring in the form of hard erosion control devices such as seawalls, bulkheads, and rip-rap to protect erosion-threatened structures adjacent to the beach has not proven effective. These armoring devices have given a false sense of security to beachfront property owners. In reality, these hard structures, in many instances, have increased the vulnerability of beachfront property to damage from wind and waves while contributing to the deterioration and loss of the dry sand beach which is so important to the tourism industry.
(6) Erosion is a natural process which becomes a significant problem for man only when structures are erected in close proximity to the beach/dune system. It is in both the public and private interests to afford the beach/dune system space to accrete and erode in its natural cycle. This space can be provided only by discouraging new construction in close proximity to the beach/dune system and encouraging those who have erected structures too close to the system to retreat from it.

SECTION 48-39-290. Restrictions on construction or reconstruction seaward of the baseline or between the baseline and the setback line; exceptions; special permits.
(8) existing groins may be reconstructed, repaired, and maintained. New groins may only be allowed on beaches that have high erosion rates with erosion threatening existing development or public parks. In addition to these requirements, new groins may be constructed and existing groins may be reconstructed only in furtherance of an on-going beach renourishment effort which meets the criteria set forth in regulations promulgated by the department and in accordance with the following:

(a) The applicant shall institute a monitoring program for the life of the project to measure beach profiles along the groin area and adjacent and downdrift beach areas sufficient to determine erosion/accretion rates. For the first five years of the project, the monitoring program must include, but is not necessarily limited to:

(i) establishment of new monuments;

(ii) determination of the annual volume and transport of sand; and

(iii) annual aerial photographs. Subsequent monitoring requirements must be based on results from the first five-year report.

(b) Groins may only be permitted after thorough analysis demonstrates that the groin will not cause a detrimental effect on adjacent or downdrift areas. The applicant shall provide a financially binding commitment, such as a performance bond or letter of credit that is reasonably estimated to cover the cost of reconstructing or removing the groin and/or restoring the affected beach through renourishment pursuant to subsection (c).
(c) If the monitoring program established pursuant to subsection (a) shows an increased erosion rate along adjacent or downdrift beaches that is attributable to a groin, the department must require either that the groin be reconfigured so that the erosion rate on the affected beach does not exceed the pre-construction rate, that the groin be removed, and/or that the beach adversely affected by the groin be restored through renourishment.
(d) Adjacent and downdrift communities and municipalities must be notified by the department of all applications for a groin project.
(e) Nothing in the section shall be construed to create a private cause of action, but nothing in this section shall be construed to limit a cause of action under recognized common law or other statutory theories. The sole remedies, pursuant to this section, are:

(i) the reconstruction or removal of a groin; and/or
(ii) restoration of the adversely affected beach and adjacent real estate through renourishment pursuant to subsection (c).

Section 48-39-290 (B)(2) Erosion control devices:
(a) No new erosion control structures or devices are allowed seaward of the setback line except to protect a public highway which existed on the effective date of this act. (b) Erosion control structures or devices which existed on the effective date of this act must not be repaired or replaced if destroyed:

(i) more than eighty percent above grade through June 30, 1995;

(ii) more than sixty-six and two-thirds percent above grade from July 1, 1995, through June 30, 2005;
(iii) more than fifty percent above grade after June 30, 2005.
(iv) Damage to seawalls and bulkheads must be judged on the percent of the structure remaining intact at the time of damage assessment. The portion of the structure or device above grade parallel to the shoreline must be evaluated. The length of the structure or device parallel to the shoreline still intact must be compared to the length of the structure or device parallel to the shoreline which has been destroyed. The length of the structure or device parallel to the shoreline determined to be destroyed divided by the total length of the original structure or device parallel to the shoreline yields the percent destroyed. Those portions of the structure or device standing, cracked or broken piles, whalers, and panels must be assessed on an individual basis to ascertain if these components are repairable or if replacement is required. Revetments must be judged on the extent of displacement of stone, effort required to return these stones to the prestorm event configuration of the structure or device, and ability of the revetment to retain backfill material at the time of damage assessment. If the property owner disagrees with the assessment of a registered professional engineer acting on behalf of the department, he may obtain an assessment by a registered professional engineer to evaluate, as set forth in this item, the damage to the structure or device. If the two assessments differ, then the two engineers who performed the assessments must select a registered professional engineer to perform the third assessment. If the first two engineers are unable to select an engineer to perform the third assessment, the clerk of court of the county where the structure or device lies must make the selection of a registered professional engineer. The determination of percentage of damage by the third engineer is conclusive.
(v) The determination of the degree of destruction must be made on a lot by lot basis by reference to county tax maps.

(vi) Erosion control structures or devices must not be enlarged, strengthened, or rebuilt but may be maintained in their present condition if not destroyed more than the percentage allowed in Section 48-39-290(B)(2)(b)(i), (ii), and (iii). Repairs must be made with materials similar to those of the structure or device being repaired.

(c) Erosion control structures or devices determined to be destroyed more than the percentage allowed in Section 48-39-290(B)(2)(b)(i), (ii), and (iii) must be removed at the owner's expense. Nothing in this section requires the removal of an erosion control structure or a device protecting a public highway which existed on the effective date of Act 634 of 1988.
(d) The provisions of this section do not affect or modify the provisions of Section 48-39-120(C).

(e) Subitem (a) does not apply to a private island with an Atlantic Ocean shoreline of twenty thousand, two hundred ten feet of which twenty thousand, ninety feet of shoreline is revetted with existing erosion control devices and one hundred twenty feet of shoreline is not revetted with existing erosion control devices. Nothing contained in this subitem makes this island eligible for beach renourishment funds.

A good overview of the Beachfront Management Act can be found here.

As mentioned above, Folly Beach is exempt from the retreat policy and the seawall prohibition mandated in the Beachfront Management Act. Much of Folly Beach is armored and under the exemption, the seawalls may be rebuilt. Folly Beach planners hope that the beaches can be maintained by beach nourishment. Once the beaches are under control, Folly Beach homes may have to follow the normal standards in the Beachfront Management Act.

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.

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 approved, this would effectively stop installation of groins in the surf perpendicular to the shoreline.


South Carolina Sea Grant has estimated that 27% of the shoreline is armored.

Folly Beach has an estimated 60% of the shoreline armored and there are proposals to add a groin there to attempt to arrest further erosion. See update on this. Also see below for more details on developments at Folly Beach.

Engineered structures are estimated to cover over 25% of South Carolina's developed coastline. By 1990 (when the Beachfront Management Act went into effect), there were 90 miles of developed coastline. Of this, more than 18 miles were totally stabilized, almost 5 miles were mostly stabilized, and more than 4 miles were partially stabilized. Examples include the groin fields on Edisto Beach, Pawleys Island, and Folly Island.[3] The groin field on Pawleys island consists of 22 groins. An engineering study is being performed during Summer 2014 by Coastal Science and Engineering to assess the condition of the groins and provide the town with a plan for beach restoration (including groin repair) over the next 10 years, including cost estimates.

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.

The report Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management Final Report: Recommendations for Improved Beachfront Management in South Carolina (2/11/13) states:

"Based on analysis of 2006 aerial imagery and information from some local communities, there are presently 166 groins along the oceanfront of South Carolina. Of these, seven are terminal groins constructed at one end of a barrier island and designed to stabilize the dynamic inlet shoreline in that area. Pawleys Island, Folly Beach, Edisto Beach, and Hilton Head Island have the most groins, combining for 126 (76%) of the state’s total. Many of the existing groins in the state have not been maintained and no longer function properly. Ownership of these dilapidated groins is often unclear, so proceeding with enforcement or removal is difficult. The number of groins could potentially increase in the future because they are allowed in conjunction with renourishment projects under certain conditions."

The Town of Hilton Head Island has 25 privately-owned groins, 18 of which are off Port Royal Plantation. Groins also exist at Lands End in Sea Pines.

An 300-foot-long old wood and concrete groin at the tip of Hilton Head Island is scheduled be rebuilt with rock. The rebuilt groin will be 25 feet wide across the base and two feet higher than the current 7-foot peak. When completed, it is supposed to look similar to the rock groin at The Folly near Burkes Beach. This project received initial approval from the state in December 2007, but then was held up pending an appeal by a nearby resident. Final approval was granted in July 2009. The town is designing another groin for the heel of the island near Port Royal Plantation. That project likely will also include pumping sand back onto the beach. The Island Packet reported on this project when it finally began in December 2011. The article stated:

"This week, workers will begin pumping about 1 million cubic yards of sand from offshore onto a one-mile stretch between the Westin Resort and the Beach House in Port Royal Plantation, town public projects and facilities director Scott Liggett said. The work aims to combat a decade of erosion that has claimed about 80 to 100 feet of beachfront a year. Left unchecked, the erosion could threaten oceanfront property, town officials said. But keeping the shoreline in good shape isn't easy. The town also will build a 700-foot-long wall made of granite boulders to stabilize the eroding beachfront. After bulldozers finish pushing sand into the right spots for the first 1,000-foot section of beach, crews will start hauling 12,000 tons of boulders for the groin. The $1.2 million structure will trap sand that normally would be lost to coastal drift, but it will also allow some sand to move over its top so as not to starve other areas of the beach, Liggett said. "It doesn't mean the sand we place won't move -- it certainly will -- but we hope the groin will provide us a degree of stability and lower the loss rate we would otherwise see," he said."

State environmental authorities approved construction of a new concrete and steel groin in March 2003 to extend into the ocean at Folly Beach County Park, the first new groin to be built along the state's coast in more than 20 years. The groin was intended to extend several hundred feet into the ocean to trap sand and prevent erosion at the park. As a condition of the permit, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission agreed to monitor down-shore islands and set aside $200,000 to rebuild beaches if they erode. Approximately $1 million must be found to build the groin, monitor its effects, set up an insurance fund and rebuild the park's parking lot. Pending funding, construction was scheduled to begin in fall 2003.[4]

Another contested case involves a homeowner at the northwest corner of Folly Island. The homeowner was denied a permit to build a seawall but was allowed to build a sandbag barrier in January 2002. A storm in September 2003 destroyed most of the sandbag wall. In January 2004, the Folly Beach city council denied the homeowner's request to replace the sandbags, in part because the sandbags would extend beyond the high tide line and in part because the existing sandbags were littering the beach.[5] A homeowner in Folly Beach gained approval to build a seawall to protect her beachfront home in early 2005. This was to be combined with an Army Corps of Engineers plan to refill the island's beach in spring 2005.

More recently, severe erosion at Folly Beach County Park caused officials to close the park. The park is built on a volatile spit of sand at the island’s far western end toward Kiawah Island. It closed in 2011 after waves from Hurricane Irene tore through the dunes and crossover boardwalks. The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission wants to implement a $3 million renorishment project that includes building a groin 200 feet out to sea to partly dam the flow of sand in the current along the shore and protect sand renourishment. The Coastal Conservation League has opposed a permit to let the Commission build the groin. As of February 2013, the league and the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission were still negotiating over the fate of the project. A compromise on this issue was reached in March 2013.

Six groins were installed at Hunting Island State Park in early 2007 as part of an $8.3 million beach fill project. It was originally intended to install nine groins, extending to the south end of the island, but there were insufficient funds to complete the project. Following the groin installation, owners of 22 private beach houses along the section of beach not protected by groins complained of increased beach erosion, which they claimed was made worse by the state's truncated project. A plan to add 400,000 cubic yards of sand to the coast at Hunting Island State Park over five years to address this problem ran into a roadblock over where to get the sand. Initially, the sand was to come from Hunting Island's north spit adjacent to Johnson Creek Inlet and the south spit near Fripp Inlet. Concerns about a piping plover roosting habitat and many comments from Harbor Island residents against taking sand from the north spit, however, prompted park officials to remove the northern borrow site from the project. But there is also concern about taking all the sand from the south spit, since that may impact beaches, wetlands and habitat along the Fripp Inlet shoreline and disrupt sand transport to Fripp Island. Taking the sand from an inland source would avoid these problems but would greatly increase the cost of the project. Erosion has continued in this area and Beaufort County Council Chairman Weston Newton signed an evacuation order in July 2009 for 12 cottages on Cabin Road, where erosion has now washed away the street.

Hurricane Matthew struck South Carolina in October 2016 and caused major erosion at Hunting Island State Park and other coastal areas. This moved state park officials to almost double the scope of a beach restoration project planned before the storm. By mid-2017, the project scope envisioned pumping up to 1.2 million cubic yards of sand onto Hunting Island’s shoreline and building up to four new groins.

Georgetown County has set aside $21,000 and is seeking permission to rebuild the walkway on Pawleys Island and reinforce the south end parking lot. Engineering studies are also being done to establish a groin on the south end.

A seawall has been constructed on Daufuskie Island in front of beachfront homes at Bloody Point. The homeowners in this case filed a lawsuit against the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) in March 2002 after the agency wouldn't approve an application for a seawall. While the case was being heard in the court system, a judge allowed the owners to build the seawall with the stipulation that if the state won the case, the wall had to come down. The group posted a $100,000 bond to cover the cost if needed. [6] This case was resolved in March 2004 just before it was scheduled to go to trial. The agreement allows the homeowners to keep their seawall in place, but they also agreed to remove the wall if the state allows them to install groins. They were given six months to apply to OCRM for permission to install groins. If OCRM doesn't approve the applications, the lawsuit goes back to court.[7]

In a further development in this case, the homeowners submitted a permit application for groins in early 2005. The permit application called for one 140-foot-long groin made of corrugated steel sheets with rocks along the side and concrete on top and another approximately 400-foot-long groin made of rocks. Each groin was to have a wall parallel to the shore at the end of the groin to make a "T" shape. Eventually, when it became evident that the project would not be funded by the state, the 146-member Bloody Point Property Owners Association voted to pay for a nearly $1 million project themselves. The project, completed in late 2007, involved installing a 125-foot groin into the Mungen River near its confluence with the Atlantic.

Also on Daufuskie Island, an article published at in September 2011 stated that "state regulators say they plan to take action against three couples and a contractor who put "revetment material" on Daufuskie Island's eroding beach without authorization." The articles further states: "A DHEC inspection in December 2009 found more than 100 exposed and buried sandbags and two concrete walls installed on the property next to Brian McCarthy's home at 33 Driftwood Cottage Lane. Follow-up inspections in January 2010 and June of this year found new rip-rap had been placed next to the home and another at 29 Driftwood Cottage Lane owned by John and Amy Carlino."

An article in The State in April 2012 discussed erosion in the area of Haig Point Lighthouse. In response, the local community hired Myrick Marine Contracting to place a quarter-mile-long revetment to bolster the beachfront against further erosion. At the same time, the firm will solidify 350 feet of shoreline along Beach Road. The private community will pay for the nearly $700,000 project with its reserves and contributions from homeowners.

Developers at the gated beach golf resort of Kiawah Island want to sink a wall in the sand of Sam's Spit (the undeveloped strip of sand and dunes past Beachwalker Park on the island's west end toward Seabrook Island) but environmentalists oppose the move, saying it's a back-door attempt to build a bulkhead that regulators already denied. An attempt to build a half-mile-long concrete wall along the inlet bank to stem erosion in 2008 was hotly contested. State regulators denied the permit, instead allowing a 270-foot-long bulkhead. The 150-acre Sam's Spit is owned by Kiawah Development Partners and has enough high ground that as many as 50 homes could be built there. Developers want to set a 1-foot-wide corrugated metal wall five to 10 feet deep in the sand for 300 to 350 feet through the spit's narrow neck. It would rise about a foot above the existing surface. The development's own environmental analysis, conducted in the 1970s, characterizes the spit as extremely unstable and "subject to rapid and drastic changes in erosion and deposition." The analysis was done by Environmental Research Center in Columbia. There is concern that if that structure goes in, it will facilitate development. 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.

Despite this, 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. More on this from November 2015. In December 2015, the state legislature appeared poised to pass a bill that would facilitate development by allowing flexibility in drawing a regulatory setback line. A subcommittee removed language that would have fixed in place a regulatory setback line that restricts how close to a beach you can build. The line now could be moved toward the beach in a periodic redrawing that is underway, giving more room for the road.

Hurricane Matthew impacted the South Carolina coast in early October 2016. The stretch of beach from Captain Sam’s Inlet to Beachwalker County Park (where the development is planned) lost 70-120 feet from Oct. 5 to Oct. 9, 2016. An editorial in the Post and Courier stated: "Hurricane Matthew wasn’t the monster that had been predicted for the South Carolina coast. But it should disabuse builders of the would-be merits of constructing 50 high-end houses on this vulnerable spit in the path of a powerful sea and future storms." More news from March 2017. The Post and Courier has editorialized that this is not an appropriate place for coastal development.

In the same area, the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association applied in 2010 for state and federal permits to cut a new channel for the inlet between their beach resort and Kiawah Island resort across the inlet. The association previously performed similar projects in 1983 and 1996. The work proposed in the application includes moving the inlet east about a fifth of mile to its location in 1963; the inlet has a natural tendency to migrate west toward Seabrook Island. This work started in 2015, but Mother Nature seems to have other ideas.

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.

An experimental "wave dissipator" (basically a permeable seawall) system is being tested at Wild Dunes, and although it has shown some promise, two negative reactions are as follows:

  • "Any kind of semi-permeable shore protection has a limited use at best. At the end of the day, what you really need is more sand on the beach," said Tim Kana, of Coastal Science and Engineering, who is overseeing management of the Wild Dunes erosion.
  • "As currently built and configured, the wave dissipation system could not be permitted," said Dan Burger, coastal service division director for S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. But DHEC will review the research, he said.

Here's more news on the Wave Dissipation System from late January 2014.
In July 2016 DHEC ordered the wave-dissipator walls to be removed due to concerns about their potential impact on sea turtle nesting. The walls were still there in December 2016, prompting two environmental groups to sue DHEC because of their failure to enforce their order. In March 2017 DHEC overruled its staff recommendations and voted to allow property owners at four developments on Isle of Palms and Harbor Island to keep the seawalls in place for at least a year. The board did not address whether it would permit more of the experimental walls.

Fripp Island is a privately owned, 3,000-acre island in Beaufort County and is the only barrier island on the coast that has its coast all lined with rock revetment.

Information on Little River Inlet, Murrell's Inlet, Charleston Harbor and other similar case studies regarding Weir Jetties at Coastal Inlets can be viewed online.

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.


Bill Eiser
Staff Oceanographer
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management
1362 McMillan Ave, Suite 400
Charleston, SC 29405
(843) 744-5838 x120

Blair Williams
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
Ocean and Coastal Resource Management
(843) 953-0232

Richard Chinnes
Director of Regulatory Programs
Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management

Perception of Effectiveness

The 2001 Assessment suggests that funding is needed to improve the State's existing database of historic shoreline maps, to support outreach efforts to the general public focused on hazard mitigation planning, and to provide technical support to local communities for developing rebuilding plans. In addition, the legal defensibility of a policy of retreat that may instigate a "takings" lawsuit has significantly impacted the State's implementation of the Beachfront Management Act. This has been compounded by a lack of political will, attributable largely to a lack of public support for preventing individuals from building in hazardous areas. The vulnerability of the South Carolina coast to hurricanes, erosion, and flooding; the increasing population and development of this area; and the importance of coastal tourism to the State's economy all justify the need for SCDHEC-OCRM to continue placing a high priority on working to mitigate the impact of coastal hazards.

According to the 2001 Assessment, approximately $4.5 million is needed annually for re-fill projects in the State. A long-term dedicated source of funding for these types of projects is still needed, and SCDHEC-OCRM will continue to work on establishing this funding source during the next assessment period.

Because beach re-fill is presently the primary erosion mitigation strategy in South Carolina and many other coastal states, there is a strong economic incentive to dredge for fill material (sand) close to shore. However, decision-makers need more information to avoid negative impacts, such as creating erosion problems where none presently exist. See Nearshore Impacts of Offshore Dredging for Beach Nourishment, Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Paul Work, Clemson University; Dr. George Voulgaris, University of South Carolina.

It will be decades before the established retreat policy, if it continues to be followed, can correct the problem of historic armoring. In the short term, repeated attempts at beach fill will be required to rebuild public beaches.[8]

Public Education Program

To build public awareness about beachfront erosion problems, a 90-minute film has been produced on beach and hazard management issues. The South Carolina Coastal Council has used mass media to communicate and respond to heightened awareness of SCCC events.[9]

Understanding Our Coastal Environment is a 15-page discussion of barrier island drift, dune beach and estuary marsh interdynamics, and ecology of estuaries, swamps and savannahs.

Also see this this discussion of Beachfront Management.

SCOCRM also has a Q&A on Purchasing Coastal Real Estate in South Carolina.

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.

Also see this Maryland DNR brochure on Living Shorelines.


  1. Lennon, Gered, William J. Neal, David M. Bush, Orrin H. Pilkey, Matthew Stutz, and Jane Bullock. Living with the South Carolina Coast. Duke University Press: Durham, 1996.
  2. "State Approves Folly Groin to Save County Park", by Arlie Porter. Charleston Post and Courier. March 28, 2003.
  3. Lennon, Gered, William J. Neal, David M. Bush, Orrin H. Pilkey, Matthew Stutz, and Jane Bullock. Living with the South Carolina Coast. Duke University Press: Durham, 1996.
  4. "State Approves Folly Groin to Save County Park", by Arlie Porter. Charleston Post and Courier. March 28, 2003.
  5. "Folly Council Won't Act on Sandbag Issue", by Deneshia Graham, Charleston Post and Courier, January 28, 2004.
  6. "Sea Wall Case Headed to Jury", by Jessica Flathmann, Island Packet Online, January 13, 2004.
  7. "Sea Wall Can Stay for Now", by Jessica Flathman, Island Packet Online, March 10, 2004.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

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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