North Carolina has many statutes and rules that apply to its 20 coastal communities. If you are a property owner in a regulated area and are planning any work on your property, it is important to be familiar with the relevant regulations and required permits.

What is the Coastal Area Management Act?

North Carolina is a voluntary participant in a federal program that was set up in 1972 to help States protect their coastal environment. The federal Coastal Zone Management Act allows States, if they choose to participate, to review all applications for federal permits affecting their coastal zones.

As part of its participation under the federal program, North Carolina adopted the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) in 1975. The basic goal of CAMA is to protect and manage North Carolina’s precious coastal resources.

Among other things, CAMA establishes rules for Areas of Environmental Concern (AECs). An AEC is a coastal area that is either environmentally fragile or has important environmental, social, economic or aesthetic value.

Applicants may be denied federal permits for work on North Carolina’s coastal lands if the work is found to be inconsistent with CAMA.

What is the N.C. Dredge and Fill Law?

North Carolina also has a Dredge and Fill Law that requires a property owner to obtain a permit to excavate or fill any estuarine waters, tidelands, marshlands, or state-owned lakes. An applicant must show that proposed dredging or filling will not have significant adverse effect on the following:

  • use of the water by the public;  
  • the value and enjoyment of the property of any riparian owners; 
  • public health, safety, and welfare;
  • the conservation of public and private water supplies; or
  • wildlife or fisheries. 

What Should I Do If My Property Is On Wetlands?

Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil for least part of the year and include a variety of natural systems, such as marshes and swamps.

If your property is on wetlands, then you may require one or more permits for any work you carry out on your property. Depending on your property and proposed project, one of three agencies may be responsible for reviewing and issuing permits.

  1. Activities that impact wetlands and open waters in North Carolina will require an application for a Section 404 permit (Clean Water Act) with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
  2. If a development project is proposed in an Area of Environmental Concern in one of North Carolina’s coastal counties, then you will also need to apply for a CAMA permit with the NC Division of Coastal Management (DCM).
  3. If the proposed project will impact isolated wetlands or wetlands the USACE determines are not within its jurisdiction, then a permit from North Carolina’s Division of Water Resources (DWR) will be required. Some activities, depending on the type and size of the impact, may fall under one of the DWR’s general water quality certifications (WQC). In such cases, you may not need written approval, but must follow all the specified standards.

To simplify matters, only one application – the Pre-Construction Notification Form – needs to be completed to request a permit and certification from all three agencies.

How Do You Get A CAMA Permit?

If you are considering a work project that affects coastal resources, you must obtain a certification that your project is consistent with North Carolina’s coastal management plan as laid out under CAMA. North Carolina has a Federal Consistency Review Coordinator in its Division of Coastal Management. To obtain the certification, you must apply to this Coordinator. There is no prescribed form, but there is a suggested format that will ensure your application is processed with minimal delays. The application is free.

In addition, as mentioned above, you will require a CAMA permit for any work affecting Areas of Environmental Concern. Several documents are required as part of the application, such as proof of ownership and a site drawing of the project. An applicant must notify all riparian owners of the application. The permission or objections of these owners will be taken into consideration for your permit. A local permit officer will also be allowed to enter your property and inspect it as part of the application process. There is a $100 application fee.

How Can A Land Use Attorney Help?

A Land Use Attorney’s job is to advise clients with regards to development projects. For projects affecting coastal resources or wetlands, an Attorney can help you navigate the different rules governing these areas and obtain the permits you need for your projects. Attorneys have extensive knowledge of the laws and how they are applied, and therefore, can help you avoid unwelcome surprises.

A Land Use Attorney can help determine which permits are necessary and how to comply with all the conditions for your particular project. For example, they can advise whether your project is in an AEC, or whether any general water quality certifications apply. They know the major concerns of the different authorities when dealing with permit requests. This knowledge can make a difference between an application being accepted or rejected.

If you are a property owner on coastal lands or wetlands and are considering a development project, we can help you. We can guide you through every step, ensuring that all interests are protected, including yours.