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Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: Beaufort County, South Carolina

Additional supplemental material

Barrier Islands

Daufuskie Island has long been populated by the descendants of freed slaves, but recently a number of resort developments have been constructed. The island is connected to the outside world via ferries to Hilton Head Island. The resorts no longer have public access, but most of the island is not part of a resort, and the public has access to most beaches. The island is depicted as certain to be protected, given that it has received some beach nourishment in the past and the tendency for South Carolina resorts to pay for their own beach nourishment.

Hilton Head Island is largely developed with various resorts, although some of the traditional communities remain. Public access to the beach is poor. A number of communities along the Atlantic Ocean are gated, the largest being the Sea Pines Development at the southwestern tip of the island. Automobile parking is prohibited in the vicinity of most public access paths to the beach. As a result, Corps of Engineer funding will be unavailable for shore protection, unless the town is able to substantially improve public access. Nevertheless, the extremely high property values make shore protection almost certain. A number of preserves, however, are likely to remain in their natural state and hence are unlikely to be protected. (We were not able to obtain data on the locations of all these preserves, however, so our maps do not show all of those blue areas.

Bay Point, St. Phillips, Capers, and Prichards Islands. These islands are undeveloped, and are unlikely to become developed. Some of them have conservation easements.

Fripp Island. This island is a gated community and hence would not be eligible for federal funding for beach nourishment. It has, however, been nourished with private funds in the past and county planners expect that such nourishment will continue in the future. This island also has hard shore-protection structures. Therefore, the county believes that it is certain to be protected.

Hunting Island. This island is largely undeveloped and has become a state park. A number of inholders have modest-sized homes known as "cabins". In the past, the island has been nourished on occasion, but it is currently eroding. Given the very light development and existing erosion, this is the one island in the county where shore protection is most uncertain. Therefore, this island should be viewed as likely but not certain to be protected.

Harbor Island. This island has been accreting. Its only development is a gated community. If sea level rise were to reverse the accretionary trend, it would almost certainly be protected, given the relatively modest nourishment costs compared with Fripp Island.

Other Islands

Bull Island. Although no bridge connects it to the mainland, this island has numerous logging roads, but has never been significantly developed. There are no plans to develop this island. The lack of an ocean beach limits its desirability for recreational purposes compared with Daufuskie Island. Hence protection is unlikely.

Barataria Island. Conservation easements limit prospects for development. Therefore, protection is unlikely.

Military Lands: Paris and Port Royal Islands. Following the general approach of this study, Parris Island and the Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station on Port Royal Island are both classified as military lands, which are colored red.

Port Royal Island (civilian portion). Most of the civilian part of this island is almost certain to be developed and protected. The undeveloped areas along the northern end of the island, however, are likely to be developed. The military has been urging the County to prevent development there, however, to forestall complaints about noise from planes landing. It is possible that the area will not be developed because (a) the military may persuade the county to limit development; (b) the military might purchase the land as a buffer; and (c) development pressures are less than in areas closer to Beaufort Therefore, the undeveloped areas north of the base are designated as shore protection likely.

Lady's Island. Development is continuing, and the entire island is likely to become developed and protected.

St. Helena Island. County staff indicated that development is expected to continue and that shore protection is certain for this island.

Spring Island. The mixture of blue and brown reflects the combination of development and private conservation land. Throughout Beaufort County, numerous developments proceeded on the assumption that potential homebuyers are willing to pay for environmental preservations. Developers have voluntarily set aside substantial acreage for environmental preserves, which are protected by covenants enforceable by any property owner. This island includes trillium gardens, which would normally only be found substantially inland.


In addition to the developed mainland areas, the county identified two areas for future growth on the mainland of Beaufort County. First, the areas along SC-170 between Riverdale and Chelsea, north of the Colleton River seemed likely to grow. Second, a large number of areas south of the May River and west of Palmetto Bluff could potentially grow. Their status as rice fields, however, makes development unclear.

The county confirmed that several areas are unlikely to be protected. Approximately five miles southwest of Palmetto Bluff, the lands depicted in blue are preserves where development is precluded. The areas depicted in blue between the Jasper County line and the Colleton River southwest of Chelsea are part of a county fund to preserve agriculture and prevent development. Finally, the northern part of the county is part of the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve. Some areas within that reserve are already developed, and a few areas have already been acquired by the state. Most undeveloped areas, however, are potential targets for acquisition by nature reserves and have the lowest priority for development. Therefore, the county expects that a small portion of these areas will probably be developed, while the majority will remain in the natural condition. Because one can not yet identify which areas will be developed and which areas will become part of a reserve, the undeveloped privately held lands are all shown as unlikely to be protected.

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Governments Plan for Development of Most Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea (PDF, 7 pp., 1.3 MB, was originally published in Environmental Research Letters , Issue 3, Volume 4 (2009).

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