The Coastal Area Management Act: A bold step
that continues to reap benefits
In 1974, the N.C. General Assembly took a bold and important step toward
protecting the state's coast by passing the Coastal Area Management Act, known as CAMA. In
the years since its passage, CAMA has enabled North Carolina to make important steps
toward protecting coastal resources. Through the Coastal Resources Commission and the
Division of Coastal Management, the work continues.
In 1993-94, the Coastal Futures Committee, a citizen group appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt,
evaluated the state's coastal management program and made recommendations for improvement
in a report titled "Charting a Course for Our Coast." In 1999, during the 25th
anniversary of CAMA, the Division of Coastal Management published a report on the state's
progress in meeting those recommendations. You can view the
progress report with Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Listed below are just a few of CAMA's many accomplishments since 1974.
Protecting coastal water quality
The CRC increased citizen involvement in coastal water quality protection through a
stakeholder group. This group met throughout the spring and summer of 1999 to develop
recommendations for improving water quality along the coast. These recommendations were
submitted to the CRC, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources now is
following up on them.
In August 2000, Coastal Management began offering a new general permit for property
owners to use riprap to protect wetlands in estuarine and public trust waters. Because a
general permit can be issued quickly in most cases, the new rule could encourage
applicants to use this shoreline stabilization method instead of bulkheads, which are not
as environmentally friendly.
Responding to hurricanes
Coastal Management has worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and
local emergency management officials, local governments and property owners to assess
damages and expedite permits for rebuilding following six hurricanes that have affected
the North Carolina coast since the summer of 1996.
Coastal Management worked with the N.C. Division of Emergency Management, the N.C.
Department of Transportation and N.C. State University on an effort to measure historical
shoreline change more accurately in both current and future erosion rate updates. The
division, with assistance from DEM, DOT and NCSU, developed a set of digital aerial
orthophotography and created a geographically based set of data for the state's ocean
shoreline. Identification of areas vulnerable to erosion and storm damage, and areas
suitable for beach nourishment, should improve state and local management of development
in ocean hazard areas.
Protecting life and property
The CRC's ban on seawalls and other hard structures has ensured that North Carolina has
wide sandy beaches and dunes, which absorb wave energy, keeping the ocean away from homes.
The N.C. Court of Appeals upheld the ban in a 1999 case brought against the CRC by the
Shell Island Homeowners Association.
Strengthening coastal land-use planning
In fall 2001, the CRC completed a three-year effort to improve coastal land-use
planning. CAMA requires each of the 20 coastal counties to have land-use plans. The CRC
adopted revisions to the planning guidelines that are less complicated, better tailored to
local governments' needs and more in line with the goals of CAMA. The new guidelines took
effect Aug. 1, 2002.
In addition, the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources
approved revised guidelines for the program that provides funding to coastal local
governments for land-use planning. The revisions will give local governments more planning
flexibility, improve the implementation of local plans and encourage more public
participation in the planning process. The revisions took effect Aug. 1, 2002.
Preserving coastal treasures
With the addition of Bird Island in May 2002, the state's Coastal Reserve Program now
has 10 sites encompassing more than 40,000 acres. The Coastal Reserve Program preserves
undeveloped natural areas for research, education and public use.
Schoolchildren and teachers learn about estuaries every year through various workshops
and the acclaimed Web-based reserve tour, Estuary Live. In September 2001, more than
20,000 people in 31 states and four foreign countries logged on for a special Estuary Live
broadcast that featured estuaries across the country. The broadcast originated from the
Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve in Beaufort. This program was repeated in October 2002.
Since 1978, about 42,000 CAMA permits have been issued in the 20 coastal counties for
development, including piers, houses and even large subdivisions. Balancing economic
development and environmental protection is at the heart of CAMA.
Coastal Management has awarded more than $10 million to local governments to establish
more than 280 public access sites along the coast since the General Assembly created the
access program in 1981. Some of those grants have been used to enhance urban areas, such
as the Wilmington Riverwalk project.
Grants to local governments have helped coastal communities prepare for growth. All 20
counties and more than 70 cities and towns have developed land use plans, and communities
have used Coastal Management grants to develop tools for managing growth, such as
stormwater ordinances, zoning and subdivision ordinances and urban waterfront
Coastal Management has the most complete and sophisticated mapping and analysis
methodologies for wetlands of any state agency. The division is developing a comprehensive
Wetlands Conservation Plan to improve the protection of freshwater wetlands in the state's
20 coastal counties. The plan consists of five key elements: mapping and inventory of
wetlands; a functional assessment to rank wetlands according to important functions;
policies to protect the most ecologically significant wetlands; and a procedure to
identify and rank potential wetland restoration sites. The wetlands maps and data, much of
which are currently available to local governments for land-use planning, will be used to
monitor changes in wetland habitat and function and to help steer development toward
appropriate, or less ecologically sensitive, areas.