CLEMSON -- The dramatic boom in the sale of land along the South Carolina coast is not due solely to the soothing effects of the surf, the lure of the warm seas breezes or the taste of fresh seafood. According to researchers at the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University, the land rush on the coast began in 1972, when South Carolina adopted the federal flood insurance program.
Researcher Jeffery Allen, director of the South Carolina Water Resource Center, tracked the number of permits granted for development of parcels of land in Murrells Inlet from 1935-1995 as part of a NASA study into the effects of growth on coast lands. What he found was a huge increase in the sale of land beginning in the mid-1970s.
"We didn't intend to investigate the effect of the flood insurance program," Allen said. "But when we saw how the numbers changed after 1972, we said, 'Wow!' And then we asked what was causing the change."
According to Robert Becker, director of the Thurmond Institute, the flood insurance program is a major reason the South Carolina coast has been developed.
"The federal flood insurance program fueled a speculative coastal land market by taking the risk out of building on the coast," he said. "Before 1972, few banks would lend money without a significant down payment to build a house or a hotel that might get blown off the marsh.
"The growth on South Carolina's coast over the past two decades has been driven by a federal program."
The Thurmond Institute researchers were drawn to that conclusion when they looked closely at the data from 1992, the year a coastal landowner sued the South Carolina Coastal Council when he was refused permission to rebuild in an area where Hurricane Hugo blew away the sand dunes. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state could prevent him from rebuilding but must also compensate the landowner for the loss.