Critical Area Permitting

DHEC OCRM has direct permitting authority over the critical areas of the state pursuant to statutory provisions in S.C. Code Ann. § 48-39-10, et. Seq, and the DHEC's Coastal Division Regulations S.C. Code Reg. §30-1 et. seq. DHEC OCRM’s critical area permitting section reviews proposed alterations to the critical areas to ensure that they are consistent with the applicable laws found in the Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands Act and the Coastal Division Regulations in addition to the policies of the South Carolina Coastal Management Program. 

The types of critical areas are defined as:

  • Coastal Waters - the navigable waters of the United States subject to the ebb and flood of thetide and which are saline waters, shoreward to their mean high-water mark.
  • Tidelands - all areas which are at or below mean high tide and coastal wetlands, mudflats, and similar areas that are contiguous or adjacent to coastal waters and are an integral part of the estuarine systems involved. Coastal wetlands include marshes, mudflats, and shallows and means those areas periodically inundated by saline waters whether or not the saline waters reach the area naturally or through artificial water courses and those areas that are normally characterized by the prevalence of saline water vegetation capable of growth and reproduction.
  • Beaches - those lands subject to periodic inundation by tidal and wave action so that no nonlittoral vegetation is established.
  • Beach/Dune System - all land from the mean high-water mark of the Atlantic Ocean landward to the 40 year setback line described in §48–39–280.

Any person wishing to alter a critical area must receive a permit from the Department. These activities are divided into 2 main categories:

  • Minor Development Activity – The construction, maintenance, repair or alteration of any private pier or erosion control structure, the construction which does not involve dredging (e.g. private docks, non-oceanfront erosion control structures, and additions to existing dock structures such as floating and fixed boat storage structures, floating docks and pierheads).
  • Major Development Activity – Any construction activity that is not a minor activity (e.g. bridges, boat ramps, marinas, dredging, community docks, commercial facilities, beach renourishment, etc.)

Two types of permits are administered for the alteration of coastal waters and tidelands critical areas: an Individual Critical Area Permit for Minor and Major Activities, or a General Critical Area Permit. 

Please see our Frequently Asked Questions for additional considerations.

Note: For additional information regarding permitting and notification requirements on the beaches and the beach/dune system, please see Beachfront Permitting.

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Permit Extension 2023