SC Lawyer, September 2007, #1. Coastal Regulation in South Carolina: Will the Rising Sea Change the Nature of Governing Law?.

AuthorBy Kim Diana Connolly

South Carolina Lawyer


SC Lawyer, September 2007, #1.

Coastal Regulation in South Carolina: Will the Rising Sea Change the Nature of Governing Law?

South Carolina LawyerSeptember 2007Coastal Regulation in South Carolina: Will the Rising Sea Change the Nature of Governing Law?By Kim Diana ConnollySouth Carolina's coastal region means different things to different people. Many view it as a fun place to play or a beautiful place to visit. Some view it as a shared natural treasure, held in trust for all citizens, present and future. Others view it as an assemblage of contiguous private property that should be afforded great respect in terms of owners' wishes. Regardless of your views on the coast and its role in your life, the same set of laws applies to all coastal areas. This article will explore some of those laws and reflect on whether and how projected sea level rise may affect those laws.

An enormous and complex web of federal, state and local laws governs the South Carolina coast. Accordingly, those involved in coastal resource management, conservation measures and economic development activity in South Carolina must comply with myriad laws, regulations and requirements. Sorting through the existing laws, how they apply and how they interact is a task that often overwhelms coastal zone planners, resource managers, developers, conservationists and those involved in commerce, industry, recreation, tourism and preservation. Understanding and applying the various coastal laws will inevitably become even more complex with the added impact of a rising sea level and climate change.

As is true of similar areas around the globe, South Carolina's coastline is experiencing increased stress, making compliance with laws designed to protect the coast more critical than ever. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has concluded that "coastal ecosystems are pressured by population growth, leaving them vulnerable to pollution, habitat degradation and loss, overfishing, invasive species, and increased coastal hazards such as sea-level rise." These pressures have been continually escalating as ever larger numbers of people choose to settle in coastal regions. This national trend of migration to coastal regions appears likely to intensify in the future, with a corresponding increased impact on South Carolina.

Here in South Carolina, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population of South Carolina grew from 3,486,703 persons in 1990 to 4,321,249 persons in 2006. This represents an almost 20 percent increase. More importantly, a significant percentage of this increase occurred within South Carolina's eight coastal counties. That region is booming, which should not surprise anyone given the attraction of the state's beautiful coastline.

This increase in coastal growth is a national phenomenon. NOAA estimated that, in 2003, about 153 million people (53 percent of the country's population) lived in the nation's coastal counties. More than 60 percent of our nation's citizens live within 50 miles of what we think of as "the coast" (the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and the five Great Lakes). This means that coastal population density is, on average, four times the national average. Moreover, coastal population is expected to grow by another 15 percent during the next two decades.

A large and expanding population in coastal areas such as South Carolina's will place tremendous strains on valuable, and often fragile, coastal land and resources. These strains will make careful and sustainable planning for land use and economic development essential if our natural resources are to be protected and the attributes that entice people to live in these areas are to be maintained. Economic development must be calculated to occur in a sustainable...

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