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Coastal and Ocean Law
University of South Carolina School of Law
Eagle, Joshua Gary

Coastal Law
Fall 2016         Professor Josh Eagle
Chapter 1: The Coastal Law Context: Uplands, Shoreline, Water
Introduction to Coastal Systems and Processes
Key features of coastal land and resources include: continuous physical change; unusual ecological systems at the intersection of land and water; and, a sea-level location, which renders coastal areas vulnerable both to storms and flooding and to waterborne pollution flowing downhill to the sea.
The Geology of Instability
All types of coastal land are prone to both short- and long-term physical change – “transient features”
Most of our law in the United States is an outgrowth of English law. However, coastal law is different, because English law developed around and mostly concerned property that you could put a fence around.
There is a constant tension in the law when property is unstable.
Case study: Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s Ocean Shores—page 2
Many of today’s beaches are 200 to 2,000 feet landward of the shore that the original beaches where located on when the New World was first discovered in the early 1600s.
“Fast land” is another word for dry land, or upland. It has the same root as “fasten”: the idea is that, unlike the wet sand beach, fastland is relatively stable or fixed.
Solutions to eroding beaches: move structures landward to a “safe” distance; hard stabilization structures such as concrete seawalls, groin field, and concrete rubble; soft stabilization methods such as beach renourishment.
General terminology
Upland—land upwards from the high water mark (property capable of private ownership)
Wet sand beach (“foreshore”)—publically owned
Submerged land (water column)—land always under water
“Coast”—differs among the several states
South Carolina—includes the whole of all coastal counties
Hawaii Florida—entire state
California—three hundred feet inland of the mean high tide line and three miles into the ocean
Note: All “state property” extends three nautical miles out into the ocean.
What land area is covered by coastal law? Ocean-front property in general, estuaries, brackish water, and all water areas until it is no longer influenced by the tide or is completely fresh water. The land touching all these water systems is covered by coastal law.
Littoral—land that borders on an ocean and a lake (rarely refers to lake front property unless you are in a state that does not touch an ocean)
Distinguish from riparian—land that borders on a stream or river
Sediment budget for a littoral cell (See chart on page 6)—Littoral cells can be thought of as stable or fixed as a whole even though sediment is added or taken away.
Structural methods for coastal shore protection:
Seawalls—massive, vertical structures used to protect backshore areas from heavy wave action, and in lower wave energy environments, to separate land from water.
Bulkheads—vertical retaining walls to hold or prevent the soil from sliding seaward.
Revetments—cover or facing of erosion resistant material placed directly on an existing slope, embankment or dike to protect the area from waves and strong currents.
Dikes and levees—earth structures (like dams) that keep elevated water levels from flooding interior lowlands.
Breakwaters—generally shore-parallel structures that reduce the amount of wave energy reaching the protected area.
Groins—shoreline perpendicular hard structure, usually made out of rocks, concrete, and reinforced with metal rebars; the oldest and most common shore-connected, beach stabilization structure
Groins are permitted in most states under specific fact situations; in South Carolina groins are permitted after private beach renourishment, the rationale being that if someone gives money to renourish his/her beach, he/she should be entitled to protect it through the use of a hard stabilization structure such as a groin.
Sills / perched beaches –retaining sill to trap sand and results in a “perched beach,” or one that is elevated above its original level. Serves as a low miniature breakwater, reducing the wave energy in the lee of the structure, and increasing the residence time of the sand. Under the right conditions, the incoming waves will push the sand to a higher elevation at the toe of the bank, thus preventing storm waves from reaching the bank.
Jetties and piers—shore-normal stone structures commonly used for training navigation channels and stabilizing inlets. Piers are structures which are sometimes referred to as jetties.
Non-structural methods for coastal shore protection:
Vegetation planting—effective and inexpensive way to stabilize dunes and protect marshes.
Groundwater drainage—also known as bluff dewatering; common practice used to rapidly drain ground and surface waters away from a bluff in order to eliminate or reduce bluff failures initiated by groundwater seepage.
Beach renourishment—introduction of material along a shoreli

sand is available, wind blows in a persistent onshore direction, and a low-lying or low-relief area exists landward of the beach where the sand can accumulate.
Dunes serve as important coastal buffers because they are flexible barriers to storm waves and provide protection to the lower-lying back dune areas.
Wherever dues can be created and stabilized, they often work better than seawalls.
Dunes also maintain a large stockpile of sand that feeds the beach during severe storms or prolonged periods of wave attack.
Dune erosion, either during storms or because of a reduction in sand supply, can be destructive to any structures build on the dunes.
Dune instability may result from human impacts in the form of construction or recreation.
Development, if it is to occur at all, should take place in the back dune area, which has the advantage of protection from winter storms.
Sand bar system
Once sand moves down the coast and out to see it is stored in sand bars that tend to reduce the wave energy impinging on the shoreline, because the waves will break further offshore.
Excess sand from the sand bars will be moved onshore by wind and will eventually rebuild the dunes.
California submarine canyons
The greatest, but also the least visible, loss of sand from California’s beaches takes place through the many submarine canyons along California’s continental shelf. Once sand starts moving into one of these canyons, it is lost permanently to the beach.
Beyond erosion and accretion, there are other reasons why the line that separates land from water might move:
Dry land can change in elevation, that is, rise or subside, over time, even in the absence of erosion or accretion. Land may also rise (i.e. in Juneau, Alaska, where coastal lands rose in elevations as a result of glacial melt)
The adjacent waterbody can drop, leading to an increase in the amount of dry land (this is known as reliction or, sometimes derelicition), or it can rise.