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Ocean & Coastal Resource Management (OCRM)

Frequently Asked Questions - Critical Area Permitting

  1. What is the "critical area"?
  2. What activities are covered under a Critical Area Permit?
  3. How do I find out if my property qualifies to have a dock?
  4. How do I apply for a new dock?
  5. Can I share a dock with my neighbor?
  6. What size can my dock be?
  7. Should I tell my neighbor that I am applying for a dock permit?
  8. Do I have to use an agent to submit my application to DHEC-OCRM?
  9. Do I have to obtain other permits or authorizations from other agencies once I have obtained a permit from DHEC-OCRM?
  10. What do I need to do if I oppose a permit?
  11. What happens when DHEC-OCRM makes a decision?
  12. What is a "Final Review" and who can file one?
  13. What should I be aware of during the construction of my dock?
  14. Does DHEC-OCRM have any construction regulations?
  15. What does a maintenance and repair authorization cover?
  16. Can I make additions to my dock?
  17. Are dock permits transferable?
  18. Can I extend the expiration date of my permit?

What is the "Critical Area"?
By law, the critical areas in South Carolina are the coastal waters, tidelands, and beach/dune systems. In these areas DHEC-OCRM has direct jurisdiction for permits to perform any alteration. (Top)


What activities are covered under a critical area permit?
Common activities covered by a critical area permit include docks, bulkheads and foot paths. Other activities requiring a permit include additions to existing structures, such as boatlifts, floating docks and pier heads. (Top)


How do I find out if my property qualifies to have a dock?
It is important for waterfront property owners to do their homework. If you live in a newly developed subdivision, one of the first places to seek information is from the developer. Developers of coastal subdivisions are required to submit a dock master plan (DMP) outlining which lots are potentially eligible for private docks. The developer should share any knowledge about a DMP and details should be noted in the contract. DHEC-OCRM also keeps all approved DMPs on file. DHEC-OCRM encourages prospective and current waterfront property buyers to come into the office and sit down with staff to look over the applicable development’s DMP and ask any questions that they may have. Please note that a dock master plan does not guarantee issuance of any dock permit. The DMP is simply a guide.

For areas outside of a dock master plan, DHEC-OCRM staff is available to provide guidance and information. DHEC-OCRM suggests reviewing the regulations to see if the site under consideration meets the minimum requirements for dock construction. (Top)


How do I apply for a new dock?
Contact the DHEC-OCRM office in Beaufort, Charleston, or Myrtle Beach and pick up a Permit Application Packet. This document will walk you through the steps that need to be taken in order for the application to be valid. The application fee starts at $150 for a private dock. For more information on regulations concerning the construction of docks, consult the OCRM Regulations. You can also download a Permit Application. (Top)


Can I share a dock with my neighbor?
DHEC-OCRM encourages joint use or shared docks to help reduce the number of docks along a creek. Contact your local DHEC-OCRM office to discuss your site-specific situation. Should two parties agree to share a dock, it is important to outline up front each individual’s maintenance responsibility and use of the structure. (Top)


What size can my dock be?
DHEC-OCRM has specific regulations regulating the size of the structure as it relates to the size of the creek. Creek width is typically measured as the open water from marsh grass to marsh grass. 

The following guidelines are currently used to limit maximum dock size:

  • Creeks 10’ or less = no dock structures allowed
  • Creek less than 20’ wide = no dock structures allowed unless specific geographic circumstances exist*
  • Creek width 20’ to 50’ = 120 square feet
  • Creek width 51’ to 150’ =160 square feet
  • Creek width larger than 150’ = 600 square feet

*On creeks less than 20’ wide, a dock may be permitted only if the property has a minimum of 500’ of frontage or there is no potential dockage from the other side of the creek. However, under no circumstances will boatlifts, davits or boat storage docks be permitted. All structures will be limited to a maximum of 50 square feet.

There are site-specific allowances for larger structures. Contact your local DHEC-OCRM office to discuss your circumstances.

As defined in regulation, DHEC-OCRM calculates square footage as the total area of any fixed pier head, floating dock, areas bounded by boatlifts and davit systems, and boat storage docks (i.e. floating jet docks and all similar structures). Square footage does not include the walkway, ramps, catwalks, mooring piles or davit systems. (Top)


Should I tell my neighbor that I am applying for a dock permit?
DHEC-OCRM encourages open communication between the applicant and his or her neighbors at all stages of the permitting process. You will need to provide your neighbors' addresses to DHEC-OCRM so that we may inform them of your permit application with a public notice. Neighbors may respond to DHEC-OCRM in writing with any comments that they may have about your proposed project during the public comment period. (Top)


Do I have to use an agent to submit my application to OCRM?
An agent is not required and OCRM staff is always available to help an applicant through the permitting process. However, some applicants prefer to have an agent manage the administrative application process. (Top)


Do I have to obtain other permits or authorizations from other agencies once I have obtained a permit from DHEC-OCRM?
A dock located on a federally maintained waterway, such as the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AIWW), will likely require a federal permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers as well as a DHEC-OCRM permit. This activity results in a ‘Joint Public Notice’ issued by the two agencies. Local permission may also be required in some areas. Note: A DHEC-OCRM permit does not relieve the permit applicant from the responsibility of obtaining any other permit(s) or authorizations. It is important to check with the homeowners associations (HOAs) or Architectural Review Boards (ARBs) of the neighborhood where you are located. (Top)


What do I need to do if I oppose a permit?
If you oppose a pending permit, you need to write a letter to DHEC-OCRM explaining the reason for the opposition. The letter must be received within the Public Notice period. If twenty or more people request a public hearing on the pending permit, DHEC-OCRM will hold a public hearing in the county where the land is located. (Top)


What happens when OCRM makes a decision?
Typically, one of two things could happen: either DHEC-OCRM issues or denies the permit application. When a permit is issued, DHEC-OCRM will send the original and one copy of the permit to the applicant, and will also include instructions to follow once you get ready for the construction phase. The permit is not valid until the applicant signs the original and returns it to OCRM. The copy should also be signed and then retained for your records.

In the case of a denial, DHEC-OCRM will send a formal letter to the applicant explaining why the permit has been denied. The applicant then has 15 days to appeal the decision to Board of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.  In either case, DHEC-OCRM will also send a notification of the final staff decision to any objecting parties once the permit has been executed or denied. (Top)


What is a "Final Review" and who can file for one?
Once DHEC-OCRM staff makes a decision regarding a permit application, an adversely affected party may request a final review with the Board of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to challenge the permit decision. A request for final review must be made to the Clerk of the Board within 15 days after notice of the decision has been mailed to the applicant. An adversely affected party may be the applicant, an adjacent property owner, or in some cases a third party or organization. (Top)


Other Considerations

What should I be aware of during the construction of my dock?
As the owner and applicant, you should check on the work performed by your dock builder often, as it is ultimately the permit holder who is responsible if the dock is constructed improperly or illegally.  Here are some tips:

  • Beware of dock builders who tell you that additions can be made without prior approval from DHEC-OCRM.  While some items may seem minor, it is necessary to contact DHEC-OCRM and obtain written approval first.  Some common additions requiring approval include boatlifts, floating jet docks, sinks, roofs and davits.
  • Monitor the environmental impacts your dock builder makes.  Be sure your builder minimizes impacts to vegetation and keeps the marsh free from garbage and construction debris.
  • Be sure that your DHEC-OCRM construction placard is clearly posted throughout the construction process.  Failure to do so may result in an enforcement action.
  • Contact DHEC-OCRM immediately if you believe that your dock may be out of the scope of the issued permit.  Remember, docks build out of the scope of the issued permit may result in an enforcement action and may be required to be removed. (Top)

Does DHEC-OCRM have any construction regulations?
Currently, DHEC-OCRM does not have any construction regulations for private docks.  However, local governments may require a dock to be built consistent with local codes or ordinances.  Be sure to consult with your local government prior to construction and be sure that your dock builder complies with all requirements. (Top)


What is allowed as maintenance and repair?
Basic maintenance and repair may not require a new permit.  Our regulations state, “Normal maintenance and repair applies only to work on a structure which has been previously permitted or is grand-fathered or exempted and is still generally intact and functional in its present condition.  The work may only extend to the original dimensions of the structure, and any expansion, additions, or major rebuilding will require either a Department permit or documentation to and written approval from the Department.”  When it comes time to make minor repairs, simply write to your local DHEC-OCRM office and, state exactly what work will be done (DHEC 3899).  DHEC-OCRM will review your request and if staff determines that it meets the criteria, we will send you an acknowledgement letter and a maintenance and repair construction placard.  Again, be sure to place the placard in a conspicuous place while the repairs are being made. (Top)


Can I make additions to my dock?
Depending on the extent of the additions, you may qualify for an amendment to an existing, active permit or you may qualify to make an addition under the dock general permit.  The general permit authorizes minor additions such as boatlifts, davits, handrails, sinks and benches.  If you wish to increase the square footage of a dock or add a floating dock, the dock general permit is not applicable and you will need to either modify your existing permit or apply for a new one.  To learn more, submit your proposed modifications in writing to DHEC-OCRM (DHEC 3897). (Top


Are dock permits transferable?
Yes, simply fill out the Assignment/Transfer Form (DHEC 3900).  This form is available online or at your local DHEC-OCRM office.  The new permit holder will be responsible for all conditions prescribed under the original permit.  Both parties need to sign this form, so real estate closings are a good time to complete the form and have it witnessed.  Once it is complete, simply mail it to the local DHEC-OCRM office with the appropriate fee.  Please note that only active permits require a transfer. (Top)


Can I extend the expiration date of my permit?
State regulations require a permit holder to complete work within five years from the date of permit issuance. However, DHEC-OCRM may extend this five-year period upon showing of good cause indicating that due diligence toward completion of the work has been made, evidenced by significant work progress. The permit holder must request an extension in writing prior to the permit’s expiration date (DHEC 3901). If an extension is granted, work should continue and be completed as expeditiously as possible. Expired permits may not be extended. (Top)