Coastal Area Permitting: Protecting & Preserving Coastal Zones

Permitting regulations can be difficult terrain to navigate, especially in coastal areas where additional layers of permits are often required. Three Oaks’ permit specialists have extensive experience working with clients on projects in the coastal plain. In this article, we’ll break down the complexities and walk through an overview of coastal permitting, coastal zone consistency, and common events that trigger consistency reviews in North and South Carolina. 

What is defined as a “coastal zone”? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) segments the term into two primary subsections—coastal waters and adjacent shorelands. This encompasses coastal waters, inland zones that directly and significantly impact coastal waters, and all water and land that fall in and under those areas. North Carolina specifically uses the term “coastal area” while South Carolina utilizes “critical area.” North Carolina’s coastal areas that are protected under the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) include Beaufort, Bertie, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hertford, Hyde, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Tyrrell, and Washington counties. In South Carolina, Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Horry, Jasper, and Georgetown counties fall into critical areas as declared by the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). The coastal zone maps for each state can be seen in the below figure (see figure 1 below). 

Figure 1: Coastal Zones – NC & SC

Projects in coastal zones require additional permitting beyond those required by the Clean Water Act and are subject to Coastal Zone Consistency Certifications through each state’s respective Coastal Zone Management Program, authorized through the federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972 to protect, restore, and responsibly develop coastal zones. There are two programs that may affect your project—Federal CZMA Consistency Review and State Coastal Zone Consistency Reviews. Common triggers for consistency reviews are any projects in coastal zones, projects significantly impacting coastal lands and waters, and projects receiving federal funding (see figure 2 below).  

Figure 2: Federal, North Carolina, and South Carolina general triggers*

Navigating coastal permitting laws can be a challenge, but Three Oaks can help keep your project on track, on time, and on budget. A prime example of successful Three Oaks task completion is the Rodanthe Bridge project in Outer Banks, North Carolina. One of the main concerns for the project from NCDOT and partnering agencies was sub-aquatic vegetation (“SAV”), particularly a special seaweed that grows locally to the project site and provides resources to microorganisms and various wildlife. The seaweed was handled delicately and rehomed to continue prosperous growth. Additionally, sea turtles were a concern, so alternative lighting methods and revised timelines were used to mitigate harmful impacts to sea life during construction. Three Oaks provided the permitting and compliance assistance to ensure successful and efficient execution for the $145 million project. 

If there is anything Three Oaks Engineering can assist with, reach out to either or our Durham, NC, or Columbia, SC, office anytime at or, respectively.  

*Always make sure to check your federal and state’s specific triggering actions before starting a project, or refer to a knowledgeable, licensed professional. Sources: (NOAA), (NOAA), (NC Consistency), (NC CAMA Counties), (SC Consistency),, (SC Critical Areas),Horry%2C%20Jasper%2C%20and%20Georgetown, (Federal Consistency) , (Jug Handle Project details)

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GoDurham Better Bus Project

Durham, North Carolina

The City of Durham Transportation Department seeks to evaluate transit access and service issues along GoDurham bus routes, recommend transit infrastructure improvements, and draft designs and cost estimates for selected transit improvements. The Better Bus Project includes six distinct projects that will bring bus stop access, safety, and reliability improvements to the GoDurham bus system such as sidewalks, crosswalks, bus stop passenger comfort amenities, and operational improvements. Three Oaks contributed to three primary aspects of the project:

  • Transit Planning – Three Oaks provided transit planning support for the Fayetteville Street and Holloway Street Transit Emphasis Corridors. Our team developed bus stop consolidation memos and contributed to bus stop improvement recommendations, Unified Development Ordinance updates, existing condition reports, and Better Bus Program recommendations.
  • Public Engagement – Three Oaks helped draft the equitable public engagement plan, project branding and messaging, and online/printed surveys. Three Oaks also co-facilitated stakeholder and community partner meetings, which helped shape equity-focused outreach strategies, and our in-house translation staff provided in-person and written Spanish translation services.
  • Traffic Analysis and Modeling – Three Oaks developed the 2020 no-build traffic analysis, which included volume development, a Synchro model for over 20 signalized intersections, and a summary of the measures of effectiveness to support the Durham Station Transit Emphasis Zone Study.
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Read more about the article Wake Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): New Bern Avenue BRT Project
Spanish Language assistance at an outreach event

Wake Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): New Bern Avenue BRT Project

Raleigh, North Carolina

The City of Raleigh proposes to add 5.1 miles of BRT service along New Bern Avenue to connect the Raleigh Central Business District to WakeMed Hospital Raleigh Campus and New Hope Road. Three Oaks helped prepare the Documented Categorical Exclusion to support the preliminary design. The work included developing technical memoranda and analyses, including the natural resources technical report, preliminary jurisdictional determination, visual impact assessment, and public parkland/Section 4(f)/Section 6(f) assessment; and providing agency coordination support, LEP outreach, and Spanish translation. During final design, Three Oaks will assist with environmental compliance and permitting.

Spanish translation of project handout
Project handout translated into Spanish
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Read more about the article Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS): Silver Line Light Rail Project
Example Report prepared for the project

Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS): Silver Line Light Rail Project

Charlotte, North Carolina

CATS proposes to add approximately 26 miles of light rail service between the City of Belmont, Uptown Charlotte, and Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) Levine campus in Matthews. Three Oaks is assisting with the planning and environmental analyses necessary to support the NEPA Study, including traffic analyses, natural systems, water resources, visual resources, public parklands, displacements and relocations technical reports, and evaluation of alternatives.

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