State of the Beach/State Reports/FL/Shoreline Structures
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Florida State law requires property owners to obtain permits from the Department of Environmental Protection for any construction seaward of the coastal construction control line, defined as the land that is subject to 100-year storm surge, storm waves or other unpredictable weather conditions. Although the policy has a negative outlook towards shoreline structures, in many cases the structures are allowed to be built.
The Beach and Shore Preservation Act does not allow construction of seawalls, revetments or other related structures to be built within 50 feet of the line of mean high water.
161.052 Coastal construction and excavation; regulation.
(1) No person, firm, corporation, municipality, county, or other public agency shall excavate or construct any dwelling house, hotel, motel, apartment building, seawall, revetment, or other structure incidental to or related to such structure, including but not limited to such attendant structures or facilities as a patio, swimming pool, or garage, within 50 feet of the line of mean high water at any riparian coastal location fronting the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic coast shoreline of the state, exclusive of bays, inlets, rivers, bayous, creeks, passes, and the like. In areas where an erosion control line has been established under the provisions of ss. 161.141-161.211, that line, or the presently existing mean high-water line, whichever is more landward, shall be considered to be the mean high-water line for the purposes of this section.
A variance to the setback requirements can be authorized if in the opinion of the department the structure has adequate engineering data concerning shoreline stability. Basically, the department can give a waiver to the above policy. The setback requirements do not apply to coastal locations that have vegetation-type non-sandy shores or to existing coastal structures. Therefore, rebuilding of old structures is allowed. This is also explained in section 161.141.
Section 161.085 Rigid coastal armoring structures gives actions and situations when shoreline protection structure will be permitted. Permits will be granted when private property is vulnerable to damage from frequent coastal storms. Protection of the beach-dune system, impacts on adjacent properties, preservation of public beach access, and protection of native coastal vegetation and nesting turtles must be considered in the permitting process.
Coastal Zone Protection Act of 1985 also further defines the uses of shoreline protection structures. For example, shoreline protection structures shall not be permitted to protect minor structures, such as a beach walkover structure. These policies and additional information about shoreline protection policies and procedures in Florida can be accessed via the FDEP Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems website and the Coastal Construction Control Line Program website.
Laws or regulations that guide coastal armoring in Florida include:
According to the FDEP Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems Website, coastal and shore protection structures such as seawalls, revetments, and bulkheads inhibit the natural functioning of the beach/dune system. In doing so, they interfere with the onshore-offshore movement of sand, and cause increased erosion on adjacent properties. In areas where the longshore supply of sand is limited, they may result in a loss of beach seaward of and adjacent to the structure. The state's policy on the use of rigid coastal armoring is restrictive and is primarily limited to protecting existing nonconforming major structures vulnerable to damage from frequent coastal storms. All requests for coastal armoring require an in-depth site-specific impact assessment.
The Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems has published (2005) a one-page guidance document on coastal armoring policy.
Florida State law requires property owners to obtain permits from the Department of Environmental Protection for any construction seaward of the coastal construction control line. State law defines the land seaward of the coastal construction line as land that is subject to 100-year storm surge, storm waves, or other unpredictable weather conditions.
Florida State law allows shoreline armoring under the following conditions:
- The structure is vulnerable to erosion. The DEP determines the vulnerability of a structure with the model described in the report, Erosion due to High Frequency Storm Events, published by the University of Florida in November 1995.
- The armoring will not result in complete loss of Beach Access without providing alternative access.
- The construction will not result in significant adverse impacts. More specifically, the site of the armoring should be as far landward as possible while still providing protection for the structure, and the design of the protective device should minimize adverse impacts to: the beach and dune system, adjacent properties, and marine turtles. Furthermore, applicants should avoid constructing the protective device during marine turtle nesting season.
The 1999 Florida legislature passed legislation that amended the state's armoring policy (section 161.085(2),(3),(4),(6) and (7) — Rigid Coastal Armoring Structures - to allow coastal armoring on undeveloped private coastal property. This could open the door to significantly more coastal armoring along the Florida coastline. Among other things, the bill allows armoring on undeveloped private coastal property when the property is surrounded on both sides by existing seawalls and the gap to be armored is less than 250 feet. Prior to 1999, seawalls could only be permitted if there was a major habitable structure imminently threatened by erosion. Rule 62B-33.014 defines a "shoreline emergency" and describes emergency procedures and the permitting process. Only one permit had been issued as of mid-2000, but several more are pending.
Florida DEP has issued Guidelines to Local Governments for Emergency Temporary Coastal Armoring Seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line (last update: July 2007).
- "If a coastal storm causes erosion of the beach-dune system, under the authority of Section 161.085, Florida Statutes (F.S.) and Chapter 62B-33, Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.), a local government may take emergency measures for the protection of threatened private residences or public infrastructure.
- Emergency relief measures may be taken as long as the following considerations are incorporated into such emergency measures:
- Protection of the beach-dune system
- Siting and design criteria for the protective structure
- Impacts on adjacent properties
- Preservation of public beach access
- Protection of native coastal vegetation and nesting marine turtles, their hatchlings, and other nesting state or federally threatened or endangered species."
There is a restriction on shoreline armoring in cases where beach fill or another type of sand transfer project is schedules for a proposed armoring location. Florida Administrative Code section 62B-33.0051(1)(b) states “Where all permit criteria of this rule have been met, but a beach nourishment, beach restoration, sand transfer or other project which would provide protection for the vulnerable structure is scheduled for construction within nine months and all permits and funding for the project are available, then no permit for armoring shall be issued.”
The state has required the removal of hardened shoreline structures in the case of temporary or unauthorized structures and in cases where there were structures that would interfere with a restoration.
Florida recognizes that structures made out of sand-filled geo-textile bags or larger geo-textile tubes (Geotubes) fall into the same category as other types of coastal armoring:
- COASTAL ARMORING POLICY and GUIDELINES: Section 161.085, Florida Statutes and Chapter 62B-33, Florida Administrative Code.
- COASTAL ARMORING: A manmade structure designed to either prevent erosion of the upland property or protect eligible structures from the effects of coastal wave and current action. Examples include seawalls, revetments, bulkheads, retaining walls, sloped boulder revetments, sloped geotextile revetments, geotextile dune scour protection, or other similar structures.
State policy does require the consideration of alternatives to coastal armoring, including planned retreat and beach fill. There are also a few counties and cities that have more stringent requirements in their land use regulations. Geotubes (sand-filled geo-textile tubes) are permitted on a case-by-case basis when upland non-conforming structures are threatened by high frequency storms. Sandbags are permitted for immediate relief after a storm event. Permanent structures are permitted for the life of the structure. Temporary structures are permitted on an emergency bases, 90 days with one 90-day time extension, at which time the structures are removed.
In October 2008, Sarasota County Commissioners approved a virtual ban on building sea walls, making Sarasota County one of the hardest places in Florida for landowners to get a permit to build a sea wall to protect their properties. The ordinance would put the onus on the landowner to prove that a new sea wall would not harm the property of adjacent landowners.
In 1990 the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimated the extent of shoreline armoring on Florida's coast. DNR stated that 147 miles or 18% of the 710-mile coastline had shoreline armoring.
The book “Living with Florida’s Atlantic Beaches” states that 45% of Florida’s developed east shore is armored and 50% of Florida’s developed west shore is armored. The book also reports that 63 new seawalls were approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection between 1990 and 2001. In addition, the report gave estimates of the amount of coastline threatened by 5, 10, and 25-year storms. The estimates are: a 5-year storm threatens 491 structures or 18.4 miles of coastline; a 10-year storm threatens 1,682 structures or 55.7 miles of coastline; and a 25-year storm threatens 4,073 structures or 132.9 miles of coastline. Since 1990, the FDEP has approved 63 new seawalls and two additions to seawalls, but also approved the removal of 24 seawalls.
The report Eroding Long-Term Prospects for Florida’s Beaches: Florida’s Coastal Management Policy discusses shoreline armoring in the context of impacts to sea turtles. Tables on pages 82 and 83 of the report show the Number of Armoring Permit Applications (Total and Denied) from 1981 to 2005 (and extrapolated through 2010) and the Number of Permit Applications for Major Habitable Structures (Total and Denied) from 1981 to 2005 (and extrapolated through 2010). From the report:
"The permitting of armoring structures along Florida beaches declined dramatically after 1985. Much of the decrease is likely due to the new emphasis on beach nourishment coupled with changes to the permitting criteria. An increase in permit applications that began in the 2001-2005 period and continued into 2006-2007 will lead to almost a doubling of issued permits if the trend continues through 2010. A large part of this increase in permit applications and denials stems from the very active 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons and much of the activity is centered in Walton County in Florida’s panhandle. The situation in Walton County, Florida receives further consideration below in the context of emergency permitting of armoring.
Even as the total number of armoring permits around the state has decreased, the average length of armoring requested in each permit application has increased. During the period of 1981 to 1985, the average length of new armoring granted per issued permit was 176.1 feet. During the initial twenty-one months of the 2006-2010 time period, the average length of new armoring granted per permit issued was 269.2 feet—which represents a 53% increase in the average length of new armoring per permit.
The trend for permits for major habitable dwellings is virtually the inverse of the pattern for armoring. Permits consistently and dramatically increased from 1981 to 2000. From 2001 to the present they have been decreasing. The reasons for the increase and decrease are not clear. Current state regulations prohibit the issuance of armoring permits for major habitable structures permitted after 1985."
Some projects in Florida have combined shoreline structures such as groins with beach fill. A project was planned for 2003 at the Fort Pierce Inlet, which was to be extended 3,000 feet south from the north end of the inlet and utilize "T-groins" to keep imported sand in place. At Vero Beach, an experimental structure was built with a "stair step" configuration and cutout sections to allow water to flow through.
At Upham Beach at St. Pete Beach on Florida's west coast, a $1.5 million experimental project consisting of five T-groins made out of "geotubes" filled with sand was installed in 2005. Nicole Elko, the county's former coastal coordinator, stated that once the tubes met their life expectancy of five to ten years, they would be replaced with permanent structures. The groins were intended to lengthen the time period between beach fill projects. The next beach fill was scheduled for 2010, during which the groins were to be buried when 400 feet of width is added to the beach. The T-groins have had the unfortunate side effect of making waves reflect off of them, creating choppy conditions. Formerly, long rides were possible when winter cold fronts passed by. Surfrider Foundation's Suncoast Chapter has a Free Upham campaign to advocate for removal of the geotube t-groins. The chapter issued a press release on February 17, 2011, stating that "On February 9th, Suncoast Chapter Surfrider Foundation (SCSF) sent a package to DEP, Pinellas County and the Army Corps of Engineers, with [an] independent review of the Upham T-Groin project, pointing to how the effort by Pinellas County and consultants have been fatally flawed from the beginning." Unfortunately, Pinellas County went ahead with the project. In 2016 it was announced that the damaged bags would be replaced with rock groins.
Palm Beach County Commissioners promoted a plan to build 11 granite and limestone breakwaters off Singer Island. The project was estimated to cost $30 million. When that plan was rejected (see below), a new plan emerged to consider building a series of small, rock jetties off Singer Island. County managers have evaluated four different designs for the groins, which are meant to block sand from drifting south to other beaches. Unlike the breakwaters, the groins would extend out from the beach, running perpendicular to the coastline. Two of the designs would include "T-shaped" jetties. Thankfully, this plan was rejected on February 7, 2012. Breakwaters are also planned off Jupiter Beach and South Palm Beach. These projects are intended to reduce coastal erosion and the continuing need for expensive beach fill projects. As with all such projects, there is concern that the breakwaters would trap sand and contribute to erosion elsewhere. Also, the breakwaters may have an impact on sea turtle hatchlings or other aspects of the marine ecosystem and effectively end surfing along the sections of coast where the breakwaters would be located.
UPDATE: After close to 3 years worth of effort, Palm Beach County withdrew its application to build a 1.5 mile series of 11 emergent breakwaters approximately 200 feet offshore of Singer Island. Singer Island is an important high-density nesting beach for marine turtles, including the loggerhead turtle, green turtle and the leatherback turtle. The National Marine Fisheries Service determined that the breakwaters would be highly detrimental to these turtles. More info. Yet despite the demise of this plan, at least six new sea walls are planned for construction once turtle nesting season ends in November 2013, with more expected to follow. The result would be a mile of walls springing up in areas where turtles nest. The Singer Island sea walls are proposed between John D. MacArthur Beach State Park and Ocean Reef Park. The properties planning sea walls include: Sea Winds, Corniche, Capri, One Singer Island and Eastpointe, as well as other residential properties, according to the county. The Reaches condominium tower started rebuilding a seawall earlier in 2013. More on this.
Coastal armoring also exists at Deerfield Beach and Palm Beach mid-town and is being expanded at The Breakers Hotel on Palm Beach. The project will rehabilitate and enlarge five existing T-head groins, remove one T-head groin, and add one new breakwater. The height of the breakwater and T-groins will be raised significantly. Right now they are at an elevation of 0-1ft, and they will go up to 5 ft, NAVD. And the crest width will be 9 feet. The length of the breakwaters will be extended some 20 ft on each side. The new breakwater will be 70 ft total length, and be situated approximately in front of the pool area.
The Department of Environmental Protection’s, Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems has a data tracking system that identifies armoring as one of the search criteria; however, this is not a complete inventory of coastal armoring in the state.
A federal spending bill was expected to be approved in November 2005 that finances numerous water resources projects in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast sponsored by Reps. E. Clay Shaw Jr., R-Fort Lauderdale; Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar; and Mark Foley, R-Jupiter. Those projects include:
- St. Lucie Inlet — $1.5 million to complete the plan to improve the inlet with jetty modifications.
- Fort Pierce Beach — $150,000 to finish a report to improve sand retention structures along 2.3 miles of shoreline eroded largely because of the federally maintained St. Lucie Inlet.
A controversial situation exists at Santa Rosa Island in the Gulf Islands National Seashore off the Florida Panhandle. Its lone road, County Road 399, has been damaged in recent years by Hurricane Opel (1995), Hurricane Ivan (2004), Tropical Storm Arlene (2005), Hurricane Dennis (2005) and Hurricane Katrina (2005). Now there are proposals by the National Park Service officials to armor the road, despite park service policy that calls for letting nature take its course on the seashore. Opposing the armoring are Robert J. Young, a coastal geologist at Western Carolina University and Orrin H. Pilkey, director of the Duke University Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. Rebecca Beavers, a coastal geologist for the park service, has stated officials are considering ways to maintain road access between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach in the short term with "options that would not require hard stabilization." The seashore is developing a general management plan and David B. Shaver, chief of the geologic resources division of the park service has stated that action on anything permanent "is on hold pending analysis."
Existing or proposed seawalls are issues in Indian River County (Wabasso Beach, where an 830-foot-long wall was built to protect eight homes about 10 years ago), Martin County (Jensen Beach, where an 85-foot-long seawall has been permitted but not yet built) and St. Lucie County (Indian River Drive, where the county spent $37.5 million adding interlocking concrete block to restore Indian River Lagoon after hurricane damage in 2004, but ran into objections from several private property owners who refused to allow county engineers onto their property to do the work).
In May 2012 large sandbags were installed in front of beach condominiums located at 7400 Estero Boulevard in Fort Myers Beach. A Leonardo Arms Association member was quoted as saying "The next step beyond the temporary process will be some type of a permanent seawall."
Another location where existing shoreline structures are creating controversy is at 32nd Street in Miami Beach where three breakwaters were constructed in 2002 to capture sand. Instead, many local residents believe that the breakwaters have contributed to erosion and want the breakwaters removed. In June 2007 the Miami-Dade County Commission approved a study by independent experts to evaluate the breakwaters and whether they should be removed.
Information on Ponce de Leon Inlet, St. Lucie Inlet, Boca Raton Inlet, Hillsboro Inlet, East Pass Channel and other similar case studies regarding Weir Jetties at Coastal Inlets: Part 2, Case Studies is contained in a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers publication, December 2002.
A couple of unusual beach erosion control projects have been proposed for Flagler Beach. A company called SeaBull Marine Inc. proposed to install their "ShoreGuard" system in the ocean off North 20th Street. ShoreGuard is a zig-zag fence-like device that would be installed on the sea floor in 14 feet of water. The structure would be installed on a trial basis for 18 months. As of August 2008, the project had been permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers but was waiting for a Florida DEP permit. In 2012 the City commissioners voted unanimously to approve a different beach restoration project. Dick Holmberg of Holmberg Technologies wants to install fabric tubes filled with a concrete slurry hundreds of feet perpendicular to the beach. Those sound like groins to us. Funding and permits for this locally-sponsored (no Army Corps of Engineers involvement or funding) still need to be secured. He offered in 2006 to build a "demonstration project" along Flagler County's beaches for $2.5 million.
The Fiscal Year 2017 Civil Works Budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides $4.62 billion in gross discretionary funding for the Civil Works program. This budget lists proposed projects and the associated budget justification by state.
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Perception of Effectiveness
There appears to be trouble in paradise with respect to crafting and implementing policies restricting the construction of beach-destroying shoreline structures. The FDEP Beaches and Coastal Systems Website accurately points out the problems with shoreline structures, but state regulations and policies are too lax in allowing permits for such structures. As a result, additional armoring of the Florida coast — with associated loss of beaches and beach access — is likely to occur.
Public Education Program
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, is often faced with requests to permit, implement or fund new and innovative erosion control projects. The Department considers new and innovative shore protection technologies as applied science, intended to solve an erosion problem, and about which the Department staff and professional engineering community have insufficient information to predict project performance and reliability, and potential impacts to the beach dune system.
In 1989, the Florida Legislature enacted a law (161.082, F.S.) that allows the Department to encourage the development of new and innovative methods for dealing with the coastal erosion problems along the state’s shorelines. The law provides the Department the ability to authorize the construction of pilot projects utilizing alternative erosion control methods, upon receipt of an application from a riparian property owner or governmental entity, and upon consideration of the facts and circumstances surrounding the application. Additional guidance for the regulatory approval of new/innovative shore protection technologies is provided in Chapter 62B-41.075, F.A.C.
Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant has prepared a summary document What are the regulatory rules for shoreline stabilization in the Gulf of Mexico, especially in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida?
The Department hosted a workshop on innovative shore protection technologies in Tallahassee, on February 22-23, 2006. The workshop offered designers and vendors of new and innovative shore protection technologies an opportunity to showcase their ideas and products, and provided information on Department rules and procedures for permitting and funding pilot projects in the state. Additional information can be obtained by Email. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Historical Overview of Innovative Erosion Control Technology In Florida is a presentation by Paden E. Woodruff, Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Check out Building in Paradise. This brochure outlines some of the ways coastal construction differs from inland development and questions to ask when building and living on Florida's coasts. Purchasing Paradise is a companion brochure to Building in Paradise which provides information on how to wisely choose your coastal property in order to minimize the chances of personal injury and property damage and suggestions on how to be a good environmental steward.
Much additional general information about erosion issues can be found at
Salt-friendly sea oats -- known to scientists as Uniola paniculata -- are used to stabilize sandy soil with their long root system. The plant's tall lean blades catch blowing sand to produce dunes that protect the beach against rising waves and heavy wind. Russell Setti, administrator of the Broward Soil and Water Conservation District, is coordinating a sea oat planting project in Broward County. Similar efforts are occuring all along the South Florida coast. To help with future sea oats plantings in Broward, call the Broward Soil and Water Conservation District at 954-584-1306. For more about the Kids Ecology Corps visit their website or call 954-524-0366.
“Living shorelines” is an increasingly popular approach to erosion control that uses strategically placed plants, stone and sand to deflect wave action, conserve soil and simultaneously provide critical shoreline habitat. Living shorelines often stand up to wave energy better than solid bulkheads or revetments, which add to the problem by amplifying waves on neighboring shores. Here is a link to a recent article on this subject:
Also see this Maryland DNR brochure on Living Shorelines.
- Carrie Hall, Operations and Management Consultant, Florida Department of Community Affairs, personal communication. July 26, 2000.
- Roxane Dow, DEP. Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response, December 2003.
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