The Changing Coast

Posted on: 7/03/2023 - Updated on: 7/03/2023

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Of all the remarkable places in our country, the Southeastern coast is one of the most beloved and most extraordinary in terms of natural resources—and most at risk due to the accelerating impacts of climate change, sea level rise, intensifying storms, and flooding. Also at risk are our homes, businesses, and military bases. Explore how these changes are playing out in our communities, and why smart decisions are critical for our future.

Use the interactive map to visualize various risks and learn more about specific proposed projects that plan to protect nature, safeguard communities, and build smarter infrastructure.

Map layers include:

  • Visualizing Rising Seas
  • Superfund Sites
  • Social Vulnerability Index
  • Wetland Areas
  • Designated Flood Risk Zones
  • Room for Marshes to Move
  • Storm Surge Hazard Areas

Proposed projects include:

  • Nimmo Parkway, VA: This planned highway would cut across the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most iconic remaining natural areas in Virginia Beach. This project would encourage building in places prone to flooding, and it could alter natural water flow, increasing the flood risk to nearby homes during heavy storms.
  • Mid-Currituck Bridge, NC: This $500 million bridge planned for the Currituck Sound was designed without considering how coastal changes will affect it, or how the bridge will change the coast. The roads leading to the bridge will be underwater if the surf keeps rising as projected, rendering the seven-mile bridge useless. And the bridge itself will prevent coastal marshes from adapting and moving, killing off a critical and natural buffer.
  • Nags Head, NC: As climate change fuels rising seas and erodes shorelines, North Carolina’s longstanding coastal protection approach is being put to the test. In one notable case, out-of-state vacation homeowners sued the state when “set-back regulations” for their eroding barrier island lot prevented them from rebuilding their home too close to the water after it was destroyed in a fire. While the homeowners claimed the state had “taken” their property, it was the rising sea that made their lot unbuildable, a case underscoring the importance of states being able to effectively respond to sea level rise.
  • Cainhoy, SC: This nearly 9,400-acre planned development will destroy the kinds of wetlands that Charleston desperately needs for flooding protection. According to the developer’s plan, over half of the houses would be built in a floodplain, trapping homebuyers in a costly cycle of flooding and repairs. New roads will prevent coastal marshes from adapting and migrating, which kills them and robs the region of another valuable flood protector. The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker makes its home on this land, and the site provides an important habitat corridor for wildlife in the Francis Marion National Forest.
  • Phillips Community, SC: Officials in Charleston County, South Carolina have proposed widening a road through the Phillips Community, a historic Black neighborhood, to ease traffic in another community, suburban Mount Pleasant. Already, nearby development has increased flooding by turning rural lands into housing and roads, and the road widening would increase flooding and traffic in the Phillips Community. The county has reversed course, but some opposition to the revised plan remains. There are alternatives to solve traffic without deepening the road’s scar through the community that could improve safety for the entire corridor.
  • Charleston Seawall, SC: The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing an eight-mile seawall encircling much of the peninsula to combat storm surge. But Charleston faces other flooding threats the wall won’t address, like flooding from storms and high tides. A better solution for Charleston would be to rethink how the city lives with water, and to design more natural, less damaging buffers to protect the historic city.
  • Mark Clark Expressway, SC: The proposed Mark Clark Expressway Extension is expected to cost at least $772 million with little evidence it will fix traffic problems. The unnecessary eight-mile extension would cross the Stono River twice, destroy valuable wetlands, and open up rural Johns Island to sprawling and risky development. Significant portions of the extended road would be underwater or surrounded by water with 2 feet of sea level rise.
  • Long Savannah, SC: In a flood-prone area in the City of Charleston, a developer proposed to fill over 200 acres of wetlands and build up to 4,500 homes. We started working to steer this project in a less damaging direction in 2018, and in summer 2021 we were able to reach a settlement that protects an additional 50 acres of wetlands on the property while achieving extra flood protections for residents of the watershed.
  • Camden Spaceport, GA: Plans to build a spaceport along a sensitive stretch of the Georgia coast would risk ecological damage from toxic fuel and debris—with rockets launching over homes, historic places, and popular recreational destinations—and would unwisely locate infrastructure in an area often subjected to storm surge and flooding.
  • Plant Barry, AL: Alabama Power is storing more than 20 million tons of coal ash – loaded with mercury, arsenic, and lead – in a huge unlined pit on the banks of the Mobile River. Unless the utility excavates the toxic ash as other Southern utilities have done, more powerful hurricanes and increased flooding could cause a catastrophic spill into the Mobile River, Tensaw Delta and Mobile Bay.
  • Wolf Bay Bridge, AL: This proposed bridge over Wolf Bay in Alabama would encourage development in a sparsely populated area already prone to flooding. Not only would development harm the rural environment and its wildlife, it would put houses and people in an area where the threat of flooding is increasing every year as water levels rise. Like other similar projects, it was planned without considering the trends of sea level rise, and the roads leading to the bridge could in the near future be flooded in even moderate storms.

Managing Organizations

Southern Environmental Law Center