Friday, September 20, 2013

Beachfront Property Resistance to New Strom Surge Protection

 Image courtesy Army Corps of Engineers
The headline caught my attention:

"Point Beach Oceanfront Homeowners Against Easements for Dune ProjectDEP says the Army Corps needs easements for beach replenishment project to protect private and public property" The Patch, August 15, 2013

This is one of the very interesting public policy issues facing coastal areas; homeowner property rights and their resistance to any changes in the beachfront configuration to protect against future storms. I have studied this issue for many years in Florida but especially Plum Island Massachusetts, a barrier island that is highly exposed and vulnerable to sea level rise. The owners of beachfront properties in this beautiful vacation and now 4 season residential community do anything in their power to stay on the beach and rebuild on the beach as more severe storms and higher surge chews away at their properties.

As a waterfront and beach owner I understand the love of the view. Nothing is more satisfying and "spiritual" than watching waves break and looking at the horizon. Beach property is so expensive precisely because you are literally at "land's end." NO ONE will build in front of you! You are the master of the horizon. 

Yet as a beachfront owner your property is also part of a larger community that starts with your neighbors to the left, the right, and behind your property. This, in my opinion, imposes on property owners a "civic responsibility" that is larger than the right to own property. This consists of an obligation to behave in such a way as to reduce harm to your neighbors and the larger community in which you live.

 After Superstorm Sandy government agencies from municipal to federal scrambled to design new best practices for shore protection. A federal task force that was "... convened by U.S. President Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the U.S. Atlantic Coast last fall released a report on Monday that included 69 recommendations for rebuilding storm-damaged areas and for reducing the impact of future severe storms."

One of the compelling finding of the report was that storm surges in the future may be more damaging party because iof sea level rise and also because the severity of storms is expected to increase with climate change.
Property owners are being asked in many places along the coast (New jersey, New York, etc.) to sign easements for projects by the Army Corps of Engineers to renourish beachs designed to create dunes to protect private and public property from the impact of future storms.

In the article from the above headline, property owners in Point Pleasant, New Jersey were found to resist signing the easement because they did not want tall dunes built on the ocean side of their homes because these would block their view on the first floor and were deemed to reduce property values. In prior cases just a few homeowners not allowing dunes to be built caused breaches in the storm protection system where the ocean penetrated through these unprotected stretches of beach and went on to cause havoc in the entire beachfront zone.

This issue, then, of conflicts between private goods and the public good represents one of the epic battles in the debate about coastal zone management and coastal policy. It is an area that deserves much more research into all aspects of the problem - the sociology of property, legal aspects of property rights, the ecology of shore protection, new technologies and geoengineering for coastal protection. Students of coastal zone management will find an endless and timely area of research in this area of scientific investigation for almost any marine and coastal discipline.

Also: See the wonderful film Anima Mundi about human society as seen by people from outer space by Peter Charles Downy.


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