Coastal Erosion Policy Issues
People like to live close to the beach. Hundreds of thousands have bought
homes on barrier islands or sandy stretches of coast. Not surprisingly,
they hope to keep their property despite the relentless march of the
sea into the land.
When it comes to inhabiting the coast, there is no philosophical middle
ground. People adapt one of the two positions exemplified by Mohn (a
homeowner) and Pilkey (a scientist).: People are at the coast to stay,
and Nothing along the coast stays forever.
From Hiney (2004).
- Should we retreat as the sea advances, allowing
nature to maintain a balance? Until recently, few tried to hold back
- Or should we reinforce the coast and stop
- In either case, who pays the cost of retreating or reinforcements.
Retreat or Reinforce the Coast?
Until recently, few tried to hold back the sea. Cities and towns were
located a few miles inland away from the advancing sea. The few structures
that were built at the beach tended to be simple,
cheap, and easily abandoned.
Left: Simple beach house at Old Waikanae
Beach, Wellington, New Zealand, typical of beach houses built 50 years
ago. From Bookabach.
Right: Beach houses in Shenzhen city,
China. From Steven's Personal Web Site.
As more and more people flocked to the coast, they began
building expensive homes on dunes at the water's edge. Towns sprang
up on barrier islands. Beachfront lots and property became very expensive.
Suntide III Condominium on South Padre Island, Texas, typical of modern
beach construction. From SUNTIDE
Should land be zoned to forbid building close
to the water?
Keeping people from building close to the beach is now
highly controversial. Landowners have paid high prices for land in
the expectation they could develop the land and make a profit. Rezoning
greatly reduces the value of the land. But if zoning allows structures,
they may be damaged by storms.
Should we allow reinforcement of the coast despite
its long-term cost and environmental damage?
Americans in great numbers are heading to beaches this summer to enjoy
the sun, the surf, and the sand. But when they arrive, many are asking
a common question: Where's the beach? Erosion, coastal overdevelopment,
and misguided conservation efforts are taking a heavy toll on the nation's
shoreline. For generations, the United States has been waging a multibillion-dollar
war against the forces of wind and tide. But the wind and the waves
are winning. The result: Coastal communities from Massachusetts to
Texas to California are facing a shortage of sand. Their beaches are
literally washing away.
From Christian Science Monitor article At Beaches,
Sand Is Running Out, 8 July 1999.
Sea-walls and other structures can protect a coast for a limited time.
Eventually, sand is washed away from in front of the seawall, storm waves
reach the wall, and eventually the wall fails. To prevent this,
sand must be periodically dumped on the beach at great cost. Eventually,
some agencies are opting to stop replenishment and allowing natural processes
to work. For example, in 2001 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers abandoned
a $52 Million project to add sand to the beach at Fire Island near New
Signaling a change in public policy for Long Island's
South Shore, the Army Corps of Engineers and New York State have agreed
to abandon a $52 million project to construct oceanfront dunes and
beaches along 11.3 miles of the most heavily developed areas of Fire
Island ... greater consideration will be given to what
is known as a nonstructural approach to shoreline management that emphasizes
allowing nature to take its course and seeking to keep development
out of harm's way. This approach is supported by state and national
environmental organizations and is apparently gaining currency among
government agencies. It would rule out so-called hardened structures
like jetties and groins and would also stop or sharply limit dumping
sand to build up dunes and widen beaches for storm protection.
Proponents of nonstructural methods say that scientific evidence shows
that dunes and beaches on barrier islands like the 31-mile-long Fire
Island will restore themselves naturally if they are not impeded by
oceanfront development or coastal engineering. They envision buying
up land to create a ''no development'' buffer zone along the Atlantic.
From New York Times article Corps Drops Sand-Replenishment
Plan for Fire I, 15 April 2001.
we allow construction on coastal property subject to erosion or damage
by storm surges and tsunamis?
Remember the film Portrait of a Coast which began with footage showing
a New England city that had been damaged by storms many times in the past century?
The narrator stated that the cost of protection exceeded the cost of the buildings
being protected. Is this good policy? Should areas damaged by the Indian Ocean
tsunami be rebuilt? Or should the areas be turned into parks such as the park
in central Hilo Hawaii?
It was the 1960 tsunami that sparked legislation
to establish a greenbelt in the hardest hit area of Hilo to prevent
future losses of life and business. Dubbed Project Kaiko‘o (Rough
Seas), tax benefits were granted to businesses and individuals to relocate.
Part of the area was filled to a height of 30 feet, and when simulated
waves over models of the area illustrated that the waves would no longer
endanger that area, state buildings were erected there. Today, Wailoa
State Park on the bayside of the state buildings, is a lovely, serene
park with waterways shared by ducks and kayakers. Monuments have been
erected at Lapaho‘eho‘e and at Wailoa State Park that serve
as sad reminders of the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis.
The green areas in the center of this image of Hilo
Hawaii, from the Wailuku River at top left to the Wailoa River
on the right and center, were created after buildings in the area were
destroyed by the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis.
From Google Maps.
Who owns beach sand?
Sand from rivers is essential for replenishing beaches. If the sand flow to the
sea is blocked by dams, and if the sand is mined for construction projects,
less sand is available for beaches. in essence, upstream users are taking the
sand, depriving downstream users (beach owners). Should upstream users pay
downstream users for the taking of sand?
- The individual property owner can assume liability. This is based
on the presumption that the purchaser of coastal property knows the
dangers, and therefore willingly accepts the liability by purchasing
the property. Many states require the seller of the properly to disclose
the dangers and liabilities.
- Prohibit coastal structures through local zoning, and government
ownership of land close to the beach. Many communities use zoning
to prohibit the construction of structures in locations likely to
be flooded. The concept can be extended to the coastal zone.
- Mandatory hazard insurance. The local and federal government requires
owners of structures in flood plains to obtain federal flood-plain
insurance. The concept could be expanded to the coastal zone. If
an area is repeatedly damaged, the insurer can take obtain ownership
of the property and not rebuild.
- The local or state government can assume liability. If coastal
structures are damaged, the government will pay for repairs and/or
seawalls and other structures necessary to protect the coastal structure.
This has been common practice in some but not all regions. After
insurance companies refused to insure Florida homes very likely to
be damaged or destroyed by hurricanes, the state of Florida started
a government-owned insurance program. Unfortunately, it does not
have resources needed to repay homeowners whose homes might be damaged
by a major hurricane. So the state is asking the federal government
to assume responsibility. In essence, the State of Florida is asking
all citizens in the country to pay for damage to homes
built in damage-prone areas of coastal Florida.
- Require those who restrict the flow of beach sand to reimburse
down-beach communities for the loss of sand. The California
Coastal Commission requires fees be paid to build seawalls that keep
sand from reaching southern California beaches. Read Report
on In-Lieu Fee Beach Sand Mitigation Program: San Diego County
Federal Response to Coastal Erosion Problems
- See US
Department of Housing and Urban Development information on Special
Flood Hazard Areas and regulations on building in these areas.
- Executive Order 11988 -- "Floodplain Management" requires Federal agencies and Responsible Entities "to
avoid direct or indirect support to floodplain development wherever
there is a practicable alternative."
The term "floodplain" shall mean the lowland and relatively
flat areas adjoining inland and coastal waters including floodprone
areas of offshore islands, including at a minimum, that area subject
to a one percent or greater chance of flooding in any given year.
From Executive Order 11988
- Federal Disaster Protection Act as amended authorized the "National
Flood Insurance Program" whose policy requires participating
communities when issuing building permits to discourage but allow
floodplain development on the condition that the construction be
elevated and/or flood proofed and that the property owner obtain
flood insurance protection against potential financial loss due to
damage from flooding.
- "Executive Order 11990 - Protection of Wetlands" requires
Federal agencies and Responsible Entities to avoid undertaking or
providing financial assistance for new construction located within
wetlands, unless a finding is made that there is no practicable alternative
to such construction. Section 7 of the Executive Order defines the
term "wetlands" to mean "those areas that are inundated
by surface or ground water with a frequency sufficient to support
and under normal circumstances do or would support a prevalence of
vegetative or aquatic life that requires saturated or seasonally
saturated soil conditions for growth and reproduction. Wetlands generally
include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas such as sloughs,
potholes, wet meadows, river overflows, mudflats, and natural ponds." The
Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of Interior also identifies
most wetlands on the National Wetlands Inventory maps.
- The Coastal
Barrier Resources Act (1999) discourages development on coastal
barriers, including barrier islands.
- FINDINGS. – The Congress finds that–
barriers along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States
and the adjacent wetlands, marshes, estuaries, inlets and nearshore
- habitats for migratory birds and other wildlife; and
- habitats which are essential spawning, nursery, nesting,
areas for commercially and recreationally important species
of finfish and
shellfish, as well as other aquatic organisms such as sea
- Coastal barriers contain resources of extraordinary scenic,
recreational, natural, historic, archeological, cultural,
importance; which are being irretrievably damaged and lost
development on, among, and adjacent to, such barriers;
- Coastal barriers serve as natural storm protective buffers
and are generally
unsuitable for development because they are vulnerable to
hurricane and other
storm damage and because natural shoreline recession and
the movement of
unstable sediments undermine manmade structures;
- Certain actions and programs of the Federal Government
and permitted development on coastal barriers and the result
has been the loss
of barrier resources, threats to human life, health, and
property, and the
expenditure of millions of tax dollars each year; and
- A program of coordinated action by Federal, State, and
is critical to the more appropriate use and conservation
of coastal barriers.
- PURPOSE. – The Congress declares that it is the purpose
of this Act to minimize the loss of human life, wasteful
expenditure of Federal revenues, and
the damage to fish, wildlife, and other natural resources
associated with the coastal barriers along the Atlantic and
Gulf coasts by restricting future Federal expenditures and
financial assistance which have the effect of encouraging
development of coastal barriers, by establishing a Coastal
Barrier Resources System, and by considering the means and
measures by which the long-term conservation of these fish,
wildlife, and other natural resources may be achieved.
- The Insurance
Information Institute provides information of catastrophic insurance,
including flooding by hurricanes.
Hiney, J. (2004). Taking a stand in the sand. Texas
Shores 36(4): 2--21.
13 March, 2009