North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
NC Division of Coastal Management
coastal hazards

Coastal Hazards & Storm Information :: Protecting Oceanfront Property from Erosion

The Coastal Resources Commission understands that coastal property owners want to protect their homes from erosion. In fact, the commission has rules that allow property owners to temporarily protect imminently threatened oceanfront structures. A structure is classified as imminently threatened when the erosion scarp reaches within 20 feet of it.


Sandbags provide temporary protection to imminently threatened structures while their owners seek more permanent solutions, such as beach nourishment or relocation of the structure. The CRC never intended for sandbags to be used as a permanent protective measure. In 1995, the commission adopted new rules that better reflect this philosophy.

A CAMA general permit is needed to use sandbags, which may protect a residence, septic system or the road right-of-way, but not gazebos, decks or similar amenities. The fee for a sandbag permit is $400. A structure may be protected only once, regardless of ownership.

Sandbag walls may remain in place for up to two years if the protected structure is 5,000 square feet or less, or for up to five years if the structure is larger than 5,000 square feet.

Sandbags also may remain in place for up to five years – regardless of the protected structure’s size – if the community in which it is located is taking part in a beach nourishment project.

Sandbags may remain in place indefinitely if they have become covered with sand and stable natural vegetation. However, if a storm exposes them, they must be removed if their time period has expired.

Property owners may add sandbags to protect additional portions of a structure as they become threatened. Adding sandbags in increments does not lengthen the amount of time they may be used.

Sandbags that become damaged may be repaired within their original permitted dimensions, but repairs will not extend the amount of time that sandbags may remain in place.

In 2002, a CRC rule took effect that allows property owners in communities making headway toward beach nourishment to keep their sandbags until May 2008. If the sponsoring agency or community rejects nourishment or ceases to include a section of shoreline in the project, sandbags must be removed if their time limit has passed. Bags also must be removed when they are no longer needed following nourishment.

Beach bulldozing

Property owners also may protect their property by bulldozing sand to create a temporary dune or berm in front of a structure or to shore up a building’s foundation. In many cases, other state and federal authorizations are required, and local permit officers and Coastal Management staff work to guide property owners through the process.

CRC rules provide for a statutory exemption allowing beach bulldozing to occur without a permit if the structure is considered imminently threatened. The local permit officer or Coastal Management staff must determine whether a structure is exempt from a CAMA permit. However, a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still is required.

During the sea turtle nesting season (May 1-Nov. 15), a federal moratorium on beach bulldozing exists. However, Coastal Management can coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to determine if any turtle resources exist in an area after any given storm. If no turtle resources are identified, the property owner will be permitted to bulldoze the area during the federal sea turtle moratorium for that year only.

Relocation of structures

A more permanent solution to the threat of erosion is to move the house back from the ocean. A CAMA permit is required for this activity.

Structures relocated with public funds must meet oceanfront setbacks. Structures – including septic tanks – that are relocated entirely without public funds must be moved back only the maximum feasible distance landward of their current location. Septic tanks must not be located seaward of the house. In these cases, all other applicable local and state rules must be met.

Beach nourishment

Experience in North Carolina and other states has shown that beach nourishment projects can present a feasible alternative to the loss or massive relocation of oceanfront development. Nourishment projects may be allowed when:

  1. Erosion threatens to degrade public beaches and to damage public and private properties;

  2. Beach restoration, nourishment or sand-disposal projects are determined to be socially and economically feasible and cause no significant adverse environmental impacts;

  3. The project is determined to be consistent with state policies for shoreline erosion response and state use standards for areas of environmental concern and the relevant rules and guidelines of state and federal review agencies.

When the above conditions are met, the CRC supports, within overall budgetary constraints, state financial participation in beach nourishment projects that are cost-shared with the federal government and the affected local governments pursuant to the federal Water Resources Development Act of 1986 and the N.C. Water Resources Development Program. The state Division of Water Resources administers this program.

The following are required with state funding or sponsorship of beach restoration and sand nourishment projects:

  1. The entire restored portion of the beach will be in permanent public ownership;

  2. It shall be a local government responsibility to provide adequate parking, public access and services for public recreational use of the restored beach.

Seawalls prohibited

The state prohibits permanent shoreline stabilization devices on the oceanfront. Included in this ban are seawalls, groins and other hardened structures.

Such structures may be permitted only under certain circumstances, such as to protect an erosion-threatened bridge that provides the only existing road access to a substantial population on a barrier island, or to maintain an existing commercial navigation channel of regional significance. In such cases, the erosion-control structure must not adversely affect adjacent private properties, coastal resources or public use of the beach.


Last Modified: April 30, 2010

N.C. Division of Coastal Management . 400 Commerce Ave . Morehead City, NC 28557
1-888-4RCOAST . Email Us