Dorchester County Coastal Zone Designation
Dorchester County legislators introduced companion bills that proposed to remove coastal protections for 90% of Dorchester County under South Carolina’s Coastal Management Program. If successful, these bills would set a dangerous precedent for other coastal counties, and could have far-reaching and detrimental impacts on the state’s most important rivers, thousands of acres of marshes and wetlands, critical habitat for threatened species, and significant cultural and historical resources. The current coastal zone is the result of much study and compromise, and it reflects the need for more planning and protection in the most rapidly growing areas near the coast. We support the current coastal zone in its entirety. Until a full expert review of the coastal zone boundary for all eight coastal counties determines otherwise, we oppose any exclusion, including Dorchester County, from the current coastal zone.
DHEC was directed to analyze the coastal zone boundary in an effort to determine the need to reassess this. Their preliminary findings caused them to recommend no modification to the inland extent or area of the Coastal Zone.
- H. 3017 and S. 17 threaten to eliminate all protections afforded by the Coastal Management Program (CMP) for about 90 percent of Dorchester County. DHEC’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) currently has authority to review all state and federal permit applications in the coastal zone to determine whether proposed activities are consistent with the CMP. Examples include federal Clean Water Act Section 404 wetland fill permits, state stormwater permits, and specialized archeological and historic site review applications. These bills, H. 3017 and S. 17, would eliminate all CMP provisions for 90% of Dorchester County (approximately 520 sq. mi of 577 sq. mi).
- Dorchester County contains significant coastal resources that would no longer be protected under the CMP. For example, the Edisto River flows through Dorchester Co. Now, OCRM can review all applications for state and federal permits in Dorchester Co. to ensure that issuance of these permits do not contravene the CMP. If these bills pass, OCRM would no longer be able to review proposals impacting the Edisto River in Dorchester County for CMP consistency.
- The elimination of 90% of Dorchester County from the coastal zone threatens to undermine CMP protections for downstream coastal resources. By including entire counties, the CMP has been able to protect headwater wetlands and streams that empty into the state’s tidal marshlands and creeks. Eliminating a large swath of Dorchester Co. from the program would not only undermine protections for downstream resources, but it would also set an unwise precedent and could lead other counties to seek similar changes in the definition of the “coastal zone.”
- Any contention that the CMP has stymied development in Dorchester County is false. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, four of the fastest growing 100 counties in the United States are now in South Carolina. All four, including Dorchester Co., are located in the coastal zone, and all four are growing faster than 97% of counties nationwide. The “economic development” argument is further undermined by the experiences of other counties within the coastal zone. In recent years, Charleston and Berkeley Counties, which are subject to the very same coastal protections as Dorchester Co. have landed significant economic investments, including Boeing, Daimler, and Google.
- Proposed legislation jeopardizes federal funding for South Carolina. NOAA, through the approval process of altering CMP boundaries, may decide not to approve of the boundary change of South Carolina’s coastal zone. If NOAA finds that South Carolina is not complying with CZMA, then proposed legislation would have jeopardized all federal funding due to South Carolina under the federal CZMA. Federal grants made under the CZMA to states to assist with implementation of their coastal zone programs take into account, among other things, the area covered by the state’s coastal management program and its population, so removal of Dorchester Co. would reduce the amount of funding that SC receives from the federal government to support implementation of the CMP.