South Carolina's Flagship University

Regulatory Pathfinder for Coastal Development in South Carolina

Do I Need a Permit?

This page is intended to set forth a series of questions to help South Carolina residents determine if and when they may need a permit for a proposed activity in a coastal area. This page is, of course, not intended to replace the advice of a qualified professional, and you are encouraged to contact officials at the various offices linked elsewhere on this website to help you make a particularized determination. Nevertheless, this page should help you get started in your analysis.

  1. Do I live in one of the following counties?
    1. Beaufort,
    2. Berkeley,
    3. Charleston,
    4. Colleton,
    5. Dorchester,
    6. Horry,
    7. Jasper, or
    8. Georgetown
    If you answered yes, you are likely under the jurisdiction of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) and/or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).

  2. Is my property on or does my project affect:
    1. navigable salt water that is subject to the tide;
    2. land at or below the high tide line;
    3. a mudflat, marsh, shallow or another area that is periodically flooded with salt water regardless of where and how the salt water gets there;
    4. next to an area like one listed above;
    5. has saltwater vegetation that grows and reproduces;
    6. a beach with tidal and wave action that prevents vegetation from growing permanently;
    7. any land from the mean high-water mark of the Atlantic landward to the 40-year setback line; or
    8. an area subject to periodic inundation by tidal and wave action such that no non-littoral vegetation is established?
    If you answered yes, you are likely under either OCRM and/or the Corps jurisdiction.

  3. Is your project possibly exempt? The following conditions impact that analysis:
    1. do you need emergency repairs to an existing fishing pier or structure, that is not an oceanfront erosion control structure, if the structure was built according to regulation and notice is given to OCRM within 72 hours of beginning repairs;
    2. do you need to do normal maintenance to a pier or walkway that doesn't involve dredging or filling; or
    3. do you need to do construction of walkways over sand dunes if they meet the following standards:
      1. if the walkway is to be constructed seaward of the baseline it cannot be more than 6 feet wide;
      2. if the walkway is going to be constructed over a dune it must
        1. be made of wood;
        2. be no wider than 6 feet;
        3. fit with the dune's contour lines and have a 2 foot vertical clearance between the walkway and the top of the dune;
        4. avoid putting sand in a critical area;
        5. do as little environmental damage as possible;
        6. not be within 50 feet of another one on the same piece of land;
        7. be the only one on the parcel of land unless OCRM decides it would cause hardship; and
        8. be perpendicular to the shore except for handicapped access.

    If you answered "yes," to any of these questions, you should contact the Corps Charleston District office or the local OCRM office prior to proceeding with your plans. Those offices are always happy to answer questions.

  4. Wetland delineations Even if your property is not on land like those listed above, if you think your land may be near or on a wetland (marsh, swamp, fen, marsh, bog or an area that is occasionally flooded seasonally) you should request a federal wetlands delineation from the Corps. The application for a delineation can be found here. If the delineation reveals you need to apply for a federal permit, you can seek a joint permit with OCRM here.

  5. Where do I obtain a permit? As mentioned above, various activities may need a permit from both the Corps and OCRM. Briefly, the jurisdiction of both offices is discussed below. Click on any term for a definition.
    • OCRM: this state agency has jurisdiction over proposed activities on the beach, beach/dune system, coastal waters, tidelands and the coastal zone.
    • Corps: this federal agency has jurisdiction over work in or over traditionally navigable waters such as construction of piers, wharves, bulkheads and marinas; dredging or excavation of waters of the U.S.; disposing of dredged material into or filling of waters of the U.S. or adjacent wetlands; fill for residential, commercial or recreational developments; construction of revetments, groins, breakwaters, levees, dams, dikes and weirs; or placing riprap and road fills. However, in the case of non-tidal waters, the Corps' jurisdiction does not extend past the ordinary high water mark. This mark is established by fluctuations of water and indicated by physical characteristics like:
      1. a clear natural line impressed on the bank;
      2. shelving;
      3. soil character changes;
      4. destruction of terrestrial vegetation;
      5. presence of litter and debris; or
      6. other appropriate means considering the surrounding area's characteristics.
        OCRM and the Corps' jurisdictions overlap when wetlands, tidelands, coastal waters and the coastal zone are involved. Construction in these areas will likely need a joint permit application. Construction or other projects in or around the beach or beach/dune system will likely only need an OCRM permit.

    Both OCRM and the Corps encourage pre-project consultations to assess each particular where they can help determine what permit you may need. Contact info for OCRM can be found here. Likewise, contact info for the Corps can be found here.

Last Updated October 29, 2010


This project was supported through a generous grant from the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium. The principal investigator is Professor Kim Diana Connolly at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Two law students, Keith Bartlett and Valerie Cochran, provided invaluable work toward project completion. Technical assistance with web design was provided by USC School of Law webmaster Tobias Brasier. Broken links should be reported to lawweb@law.sc.edu. This website is NOT intended as legal advice, and particularized analysis by professionals should be sought wherever appropriate.