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U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2008-1206

Coastal Change Along the Shore of Northeastern South Carolina: The South Carolina Coastal Erosion Study

SECTION 1. Coastal Change: Implications For The Grand Strand

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Figure 1.7. Photographs showing impact of engineering structures on South Carolina's beaches.

Figure 1.7. Photographs showing impact of engineering structures on South Carolina's beaches. (A) Seawall at Garden City Beach. (B) Southern end of the seawall at the Debordieu community. More »

1.4 Beachfront Management

Prior to 1988, regulation of development along the coast of South Carolina was limited and seawalls were routinely permitted on beaches.  Most hard stabilization structures (Figure 1.7) were emplaced during the late 1970s and 1980s under the guidelines of the South Carolina Coastal Zone Management Act.  This legislation established the Critical Line as a benchmark from which to regulate ocean front development.  The line was defined as either the scarp line or the seaward toe of the primary dune.  The state had no jurisdiction to regulate development in areas landward of the line.  Much of the new oceanfront construction during this period was placed too close to the coast and thus was at immediate risk of damage by storms. 

Recognizing that the existing rules had failed to preserve the integrity of the beach/dune system, the State legislature passed the South Carolina Beachfront Management Act (SCBMA) in 1988 (see Box #3).  With further amendments added in 1990, this legislation improved coastal management in two important ways.  First, it mandated the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) to regulate coastal development activities on a state-wide basis. Second, it largely prohibited seawalls and promoted use of soft erosion-management solutions such as beach nourishment.  Every ten years, the statewide baseline is updated to account for shoreline changes over that time period.  South Carolina’s beaches are monitored by OCRM, which publishes assessments entitled “State of the Beach” in annual reports (SCDHEC-OCRM, 1995-2006).  Because most of the State’s coast is eroding, the baseline moves landward in step with the retreating shoreline.  In this way, properties originally located landward of the baseline can fall under the jurisdiction of the SCBMA. 

Whereas many agree with the long-term objective of beach management, application in the short term has proven difficult.  The State’s beachfront-management policy has been challenged, and one case (Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council) was ultimately considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Regardless of legal outcomes, the shoreline continues to move, bringing coastal infrastructure into conflict with the relentless natural processes that shape beaches.  The inevitable result of the policy, when viewed in the context of the State's chronically eroding beaches, is one of retreat from the coast.  South Carolina has effectively chosen to retreat, but struggles with how to accomplish the feat when faced with the significant economic problems that the strategy creates. 

As in many coastal states, beach nourishment has been the predominant strategy for slowing the effects of coastal erosion and thereby delaying implementation of long-term policies.  After Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989, the City of Myrtle Beach began an expensive program to renourish its beaches with sand trucked from inland borrow pits.  By the mid-1990s, the demand for sand had increased, and the city opted for mining offshore sources to maintain the beaches.  Identification of additional sand sources in offshore areas has become a priority issue to supply future renourishment projects, which are projected to be repeated every 8-10 years along the Grand Strand.

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