Saturday, December 16, 2017

When Property Rights Clash with the Rising Sea

The American ethos of individualism is clashing with efforts to protect coastal communities against sea level rise, often to the homeowners’ detriment.

Beach Nourishment Boom (Credit: Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University) Click for interactive map
This year the town of Scituate, Massachusetts, which includes Humarock, proposed building a $9.6 million artificial dune and raised road to protect the homes.

Yet some residents are prepared to block the project.  The town is asking them to sign easements that would cede property rights along the privately owned beach and allow public access.  Whatever concerns they have about protecting their homes are being overridden by fear of permanently relinquishing control of their property.

Rising sea levels driven by climate change are forcing communities like Humarock to confront a troubling future.  The global water line has risen by about 8 inches on average since 1900, and it's expected to rise about that much or more by 2050.
As public officials at all levels of government try to protect the nation's coasts from rising seas, they're confronting an American ethos that champions individualism over central planning.  The federal government has no master plan for adapting to sea level rise.  States often leave critical decisions about coastal infrastructure to local governments.  And many people would prefer to protect their own property.
Coastal towns face a sobering reality:  They've been losing land for a century, and they'll lose even more in the decades ahead.  To fight this encroachment, states, towns, and the federal government have spent billions of dollars bolstering dunes and beaches with sand pumped from the seafloor or imported from inland mines—more than $3.1 billion from 2007-2016, according to data compiled by Western Carolina University.

Beach building is one of the more effective, environmentally friendly measures against coastal erosion, according to geologists and engineers.  But some beachfront homeowners have resisted, particularly when they've been obliged to sign easements that open their property to public access.

Read more at An American Beach Story:  When Property Rights Clash with the Rising Sea

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