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Coastal Law

North Carolina’s extensive coastline provides important aesthetic and economic benefits to the state’s citizens. With these benefits, however, come tensions—between environmental protection and development, between public access and private ownership.

Correspondingly, an array of legal and regulatory issues affect the activities of local governments, developers, and individual property owners. Complex regulations including CAMA development standards, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetlands and dredging permits, water quality certifications, easements in navigable waters and discharge permits often overlap to create compliance challenges for many day-to-day activities as well as major developments and projects.

Poyner Spruill’s coastal law attorneys help clients navigate these requirements, successfully and efficiently. A full-service law firm and a preeminent firm in the State of North Carolina, Poyner Spruill has long-standing experience with regard to coastal law and issues relating to the state’s coastal areas.

Our experience includes not only regulatory matters; we also have advised local governments in drafting ordinances, proposed restrictive covenants for large developments, represented parties in beach access disputes, drafted wetlands conservation easements, and helped private and public water and wastewater treatment systems to establish operations. We have successfully obtained variances from ocean-front setback provisions, and for sand-bag groining and other shoreline stabilization projects.

In 2015, our coastal law team was strengthened with the addition of former U.S. Congressman Mike McIntyre, who from 1997 to 2015 served North Carolina’s 7th congressional district. Rep. McIntyre’s deep experience in dealings with federal and state authorities have allowed us to expand our services with respect to securing funding for coastal projects. His seniority on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee and his leadership as founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Waterways Caucus position him to assist local governments in obtaining funding for projects involving dredging, beach nourishment, and erosion control, and to work through the necessary regulatory requirements.

Poyner Spruill assists coastal communities with urban renewal and waterfront improvement projects, with a focus on coastal stabilization, public water access rights and private developments, dredging and other navigation enhancements, all of which require multiple regulatory approvals. Many such projects are eligible for governmental assistance through economic development and navigation improvement programs—programs with which Rep. McIntyre frequently worked during his eighteen years in Congress.

Representative Experience

Poyner Spruill’s coastal law attorneys have assisted clients with a range of matters, including:

Permitting and Land Use

  • Obtaining variances for sand-bag groins from the Coastal Resources Commission 
  • Obtaining a variance from the CAMA oceanfront setback 
  • Preparing restrictive covenants and conservation easements for large coastal development 
  • Advising lenders and owners regarding rights to submerged lands and related issues for large coastal marina
  • Assisting a major hotel with resolving beach encroachment violations 
  • Advising on compliance with wetland and storm water provisions

Development and Funding

  • Establishing an association of major waste-treatment plant operators and serving as general counsel 
  • Obtaining grants and income tax credits for the sale of Bird Island for conservation education purposes 
  • Assisting with obtaining grant for relocating a coastal condominium threatened by erosion

Litigation and Dispute Resolution

  • Representing a coastal country in litigation relating to beach access
  • Counseling local governments in defeating proposal for outlying landing field 
  • Mediating the Bonner Bridge settlement 
  • Litigating and resolving Environmental Impact Statement
  • Requirements for local government projects
  • Representing coastal local governments in condemnation of threatened properties

Poyner Spruill’s lawyers work closely with clients to provide practical advice in working through the legal and regulatory network efficiently, with emphasis on compliance. Several lawyers on our coastal law team have spent a major part of their careers—some for more than thirty-five years—advising major developers, businesses, local governments and homeowners regarding environmental, land use, and property rights matters.

We work to avoid conflict where practical, and have mediated settlements to major coastal conflicts, including resolving the Bonner Bridge litigation. We help our clients avoid unnecessary or inapplicable requirements, and we do not hesitate to raise legal challenges to protect our clients’ property and other legal rights. And because Poyner Spruill is a full-service law firm, our coastal law attorneys have ready access to lawyers in the firm’s other practice areas where clients may have needs, including real estate transfers, partnership agreements, equity and debt financing, contracts, torts and other litigation, taxation, and more.


  • Mike McIntyrePartnert: 919.783.1100f: 919.783.1075
  • H. Glenn T. DunnPartnert: 919.783.2842f: 919.783.1075
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