Critical Area Permitting - Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the "critical area"?
  2. What activities are covered under a Critical Area Permit?
  3. How do I find out if my property qualifies to have a dock?
  4. How do I apply for a new dock?
  5. Can I share a dock with my neighbor?
  6. What size can my dock be?
  7. Should I tell my neighbor that I am applying for a dock permit?
  8. Do I have to use an agent to submit my application to DHEC-OCRM?
  9. Do I have to obtain other permits or authorizations from other agencies once I have obtained a permit from DHEC-OCRM?
  10. What do I need to do if I oppose a pending permit or object to a permit decision?
  11. What happens when DHEC-OCRM makes a decision?
  12. What is a "Final Review" and who can file one?
  13. What should I be aware of during the construction of my dock?
  14. Does DHEC OCRM have any regulations regarding construction practices?
  15. Does my project qualify for normal maintenance and repair?
  16. Can I make additions to my dock?
  17. Are dock permits transferable?
  18. Can I extend the expiration date of my permit?

What is the "Critical Area"?
By law, the critical areas in South Carolina are the coastal waters, tidelands, beaches and beach/dune systems. In these areas DHEC OCRM has direct jurisdiction for permits to perform any alteration. ( Top )

What activities are covered under a critical area permit?
Common activities covered by a critical area permit include docks, bulkheads and foot paths. Other activities requiring a permit include additions to existing structures, such as boatlifts, floating boat storage structures, floating docks and pier heads. ( Top )

How do I find out if my property qualifies to have a dock?
It is important for waterfront property owners to do their homework. If you live in a subdivision, there may be an approved dock master plan (DMP) outlining which lots are potentially eligible for private docks. If it is a newly developed subdivision, the developer should share any knowledge regarding a DMP and details should be noted in the contract. The HOA is also a good resource for information regarding an approved DMP. DHEC OCRM also keeps all approved DMPs on file.  DHEC OCRM encourages prospective and current waterfront property buyers to contact our office for information regarding the applicable development's DMP and ask any questions that they may have. Please note that a dock master plan does not guarantee issuance of any dock permit. The DMP is simply a guide.

For areas outside of a DMP,  DHEC OCRM staff is available to provide guidance and information. We suggest reviewing the regulations to see if the site under consideration meets the minimum requirements for dock eligibility. ( Top )

How do I apply for a new dock?

ePermitting is DHEC's online platform for environmental permitting, licensing, registration, reporting, monitoring, complaints, compliance and enforcement. ePermitting is designed to support the full regulatory lifecycle while allowing you, our customers, to do business with the agency through the platform. For general inquiries regarding dock permitting, please contact the DHEC-OCRM office in Beaufort, Charleston, or Myrtle Beach. ( Top )

Can I share a dock with my neighbor?
DHEC OCRM encourages joint use or shared docks to help reduce the number of docks along a creek. Contact your local DHEC OCRM office to discuss your site-specific situation. Should two parties agree to share a dock, it is important to outline up front each individual's maintenance responsibility and use of the structure. ( Top )

What size can my dock be?
DHEC OCRM has specific regulations regulating the size of the structure as it relates to the size of the creek. Creek width is typically measured as the open water from marsh grass to marsh grass.

The following guidelines are currently used to limit maximum dock size:

  • Creeks 10' or less = no dock structures allowed
  • Creeks less than 20' wide = no dock structures allowed unless specific geographic circumstances exist*
  • Creek width 20' to 50' = 120 square feet
  • Creek width 51' to 150' =160 square feet
  • Creek width larger than 150' = 600 square feet

*On creeks less than 20' wide, a dock may be permitted only if the property has a minimum of 500' of frontage or there is no potential dockage from the other side of the creek. However, under no circumstances will boatlifts, davits or boat storage docks be permitted. All structures will be limited to a maximum of 50 square feet.

There are site-specific allowances for larger structures. Contact your local DHEC OCRM office to discuss your circumstances.

As defined in regulation, DHEC OCRM calculates square footage as the total area of any fixed pier head, floating dock, areas bounded by boatlifts and davit systems, and boat storage docks (i.e. floating jet docks and all similar structures). Square footage does not include the walkway, ramps, catwalks, mooring piles. ( Top)

Should I tell my neighbor that I am applying for a dock permit?
DHEC OCRM encourages open communication between the applicant and their neighbors at all stages of the permitting process. You will need to provide your neighbors' addresses to DHEC-OCRM so that we may inform them of your permit application with a public notice. Neighbors may respond to DHEC OCRM in writing with any comments that they may have about your proposed project during the public comment period. ( Top )

Do I have to use an agent to submit my application to OCRM?
An agent is not required and DHEC OCRM staff are available to help an applicant through the permitting process. However, some applicants prefer to have an agent manage the administrative application process. ( Top)

Do I have to obtain other permits or authorizations from other agencies once I have obtained a permit from DHEC-OCRM?
A DHEC OCRM permit does not relieve the permit applicant from the responsibility of obtaining any other permit(s) or authorizations. It is important to check with the Army Corps of Engineers, local governments, homeowners associations (HOAs) or Architectural Review Boards (ARBs) of the neighborhood where you are located to determine if additional authorizations are required. ( Top )

What do I need to do if I oppose a pending permit or object to a permit decision?
If you oppose a pending permit, you need to write a letter to DHEC OCRM explaining the reason for the opposition. The letter must be received within the Public Notice period. If twenty or more people request a public hearing on the pending permit, DHEC OCRM will hold a public hearing in the county where the proposed project is located. ( Top )

What should I be aware of during the construction of my dock?
As the owner and applicant, you should check on the work performed by your dock builder often, as it is ultimately the permit holder who is responsible if the dock is constructed improperly or illegally. Here are some tips:

  • Beware of dock builders who tell you that additions can be made without prior approval from DHEC OCRM. While some items may seem minor, it is necessary to contact DHEC OCRM and obtain written approval first. Some common additions requiring approval include boat storage structures such boatlifts, floating jet docks, davits and sinks and roofs.
  • Monitor the environmental impacts your dock builder makes. Be sure your builder minimizes impacts to vegetation and keeps the marsh free from garbage and construction debris.
  • Be sure that your DHEC OCRM construction placard is clearly posted throughout the construction process. Failure to do so may result in an enforcement action.
  • Contact DHEC OCRM immediately if you believe that your dock may be out of the scope of the issued permit. Remember, docks built out of the scope of the issued permit may result in a compliance or enforcement action and may be required to be removed. A concern is much more likely to be resolved through compliance assistance rather than enforcement if the owner or applicant is open and upfront about a potential violation of the permit.  ( Top )

Does DHEC OCRM have any regulations regarding construction practices?
Currently, DHEC OCRM does not have any regulations that specifically address construction practices for private docks. However, local governments may require a dock to be built consistent with local codes or ordinances. Be sure to consult with your local government prior to construction and be sure that your dock builder complies with all requirements. ( Top )

Does my project qualify for normal maintenance and repair?
Basic maintenance and repair may not require a new permit. Our regulations state, "Normal maintenance and repair applies only to work on a structure which has been previously permitted or is grand-fathered or exempted and is still generally intact and functional in its present condition. The work may only extend to the original dimensions of the structure, and any expansion, additions, or major rebuilding will require either a Department permit or documentation to and written approval from the Department." When it comes time to make minor repairs, simply submit a maintenance and repair request via ePermitting. DHEC OCRM will review your request and if staff determines that it meets the criteria, we will send you an acknowledgement letter and a maintenance and repair construction placard. Again, be sure to place the placard in a conspicuous place while the repairs are being made. ( Top )

Can I make additions to my dock?
Depending on the extent of the additions, you may qualify for an amendment to an existing, active permit or you may qualify to make an addition under the dock general permit. The general permit authorizes minor additions such as catwalks, roofs on existing pierheads, handrails, utilities, benches, storage boxes, sinks, and mooring piles. If you wish to increase the square footage of a dock structure (for example,  add a floating or fixed boat storage structure, a floating dock, or expand the size of the pierhead) you will need to either modify your existing permit or apply for a new one. To amend a permit, submit an amendment application detailing your proposed modifications to DHEC-OCRM (DHEC 3897). ( Top )

Are dock permits transferable?
Yes, a permit may be transferred if the permit is still active. You will need to submit an Assignment/Transfer form via ePermitting. Both parties should sign this form. Once the application is complete, DHEC OCRM will transfer the permit to the new permittee and the new permit holder will be responsible for all conditions prescribed under the original permit. ( Top )

Can I extend the expiration date of my permit?
State regulations require a permit holder to complete work within five years from the date of permit issuance. However, DHEC-OCRM may extend this five-year period upon showing of good cause indicating that due diligence toward completion of the work has been made, evidenced by significant work progress. The permit holder must request an extension in writing prior to the permit's expiration date ( DHEC 3901 ). If an extension is granted, work should continue and be completed as expeditiously as possible. Expired permits may not be extended. ( Top )



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