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

Excerpts from the underlying study prepared for the Environmental Protection Agency by Matheny-Burns, the staff of Industrial Economics, and Jim Titus


Georgetown County extends nearly 60 miles along the Atlantic between Horry and Charleston counties. The Georgetown County has 35 miles of beaches, with 40 percent accessible to the public. All of the beachfront access is located along the coast of the Waccamaw Neck, a peninsula that extends from Winyah Bay to the Horry County line. The neck is flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, Winyah Bay to the south, and the Intracoastal Waterway on the west. Below Winyah Bay lies the vast Santee Delta with more than 20 square miles of interconnected rivers, streams, and marshes-the largest delta on the eastern coast. The county serves as the terminus of five rivers into the Atlantic Ocean at Winyah Bay. These five major rivers traverse the county and contribute to frequent coastal and inland flooding. Extensive areas of tidal marshlands are present and extend as far as 20 miles up into the/ larger rivers. Almost one-half of the county lies within the 100-year floodplain. . Elevation in the county ranges from sea level to 35 feet above mean sea level. Seventy percent of the county's land area is less than 25 feet above sea level.

Development and Shore Protection

Throughout Georgetown County, future development will be hampered by extensive wetlands, poor drainage, and low topography. These natural characteristics, when coupled with state and federal requirements for septic systems, stormwater drainage and wetlands protection, make large areas of the county unsuitable to accommodate construction. The county land use plan focuses on priority growth areas, rather than identifying the ultimate land use categories for a final buildout. Thus, our maps treat land in this category as unlikely to be developed and protected unless the land is either already developed or development is expected, as we describe below.

Waccamaw Neck. Almost all new development on Waccamaw Neck is in the form of gated communities, unlike the new homes built in the 1970s. With the exception of beach access points, nearly the entire ocean shore is fronted by private homes. Given the high value of this property, the County views beach nourishment as almost certain, although it would have to be privately funded in most cases because there is no public access to gated communities such as Debidue Beach. At Litchfield Beach abd Pawley's Island, the beaches are open to the public; so beach nourishment projects could be publicly funded. But according to state officials, there are some doubts about whether Pawley's island could justify the high potential cost of shore protection, because much of the island is so narrow that there is only room for a single row of houses along the ocean...

Sandy Island. County staff indicated that no future development is likely to occur on Sandy Island. This island is mostly owned by the South Carolina Department of Transportation, which purchased the land to mitigate wetlands lost to highway construction in neighboring Horry County. Sandy Island has two distinct land uses, as the home of a historic community an/d as a conservation area. The 100-200 residents of the Gullah community live in one village at the southeastern tip of the island, which is almost certain to be protected. The rest of the dry land on the island is conservation land.

Plantations. All but one of the plantations in Georgetown County are privately owned. These plantations are generally developable, though development is not guaranteed. Therefore the county suggested that depicting all of the plantations in the county as red would be appropriate, including plantations that are located amidst wetlands along the Great Pee Dee and Black rivers to the north of Georgetown.

Mainland. In contrast to Waccamaw Neck, the mainland outside of Georgetown holds little infrastructure and many residents are poor. These lands have been designated for future development., so the county indicated that it would be appropriate to view these areas as likely to be protected. Only the existing cities of Georgetown and Alexander are viewed as shore protection almost certain, as well as the land along the river near Georgetown.

Parks and Conservation Lands. Natural resource areas where shore protection would not occur because of existing federal and state policy guidelines include the extensive federal and state lands in the North Inlet/Winyah Bay National Esturaine Research Reserve and the Santee Delta and Santee Coastal Reserves. Huntington Beach State Park, however, is almost certain to be protected given the established precedent of beach renourishment by the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism for this property.

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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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