Castles of Sand and Steel: The Collision of Growth and Policy with the State’s Advancing Shoreline



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There is often a close association between the history, culture and economy of an area with its regional environment. The location of initial settlements in an area, development of commerce, agriculture and industry as well as regional cultural identities often bear a strong imprint of the nature of the landscape and natural resources in which they develop. Reference to the South Carolina coastal zone as "The Low Country" and "The Grand Strand" is as likely to stimulate impressions of the region's economic base and culture as to be associated with the nature of the region's landforms and habitats.

The increasing shift in population and infrastructure towards the nation's shoreline is challenging coastal resource managers and planners to both support an important economic engine for coastal states and the health of the natural setting that is, in large part, the basis for growth. The progressive intersection of the relative mobile natural shoreline and the largely static, and increasingly massive, coastal infrastructure further complicates coastal management. In addition, as the shoreline migrates so does the boundary between private and public interests which add an additional dimension to beachfront management.

There are but two real options to address sea level rise and shoreline erosion available to society; retreat from the moving coastline or defend and hold the shoreline in its present position. South Carolina took a leadership role in the country and enacted an innovative policy of retreat. That policy was based on the need to maintain the public beach as a critical public resource and one of primary importance to sustain the rapid growth and economic development of the coastal zone. It has also undertaken an intermediate policy of using beach renourishment to delay the implementation of the long-term retreat policy. This interim policy has now been at work for two decades. In that time, the amount of infrastructure has grown and the forces driving shoreline change have continued to act.

The interim option of beach nourishment may be effective in many sections of the coast for decades to come. In some areas, however, this option will become increasingly less effective and force the difficult task of developing the mechanisms to implement the long-term policy or abandoning the policy and return to the practice of armoring the shore with cement and steel that was proliferating prior to 1985. Either long-term option, retreat from or defend the shoreline, will prove to be costly and difficult to implement. This paper examines the forces driving shoreline change, the options available to address this change, defines the present state policy and considers the prospect of future implantation of the policy.


This series was made possible through the generous support of HTC, the Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc.


Coastal Carolina University--Periodicals;Lecture--Series;Shorelines--South Carolina;Coast changes;Gayes, Paul T.


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Castles of Sand and Steel: The Collision of Growth and Policy with the State’s Advancing Shoreline