State of the Beach/Beach Indicators/Coastal Development

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Much of our nation’s coastline is already developed. Waterfront residences, tourism opportunities and public infrastructure, such as roads, wastewater treatment plants and power plants, line our coasts. In addition, coastal development in a time of climate change exacerbates impacts to wildlife, habitats and coastal recreation, which all depend on healthy coasts. Adequate coastal development management includes implementing strong building codes that ensure developments can withstand severe storms, restrictions on the repair or development of new structures in high hazard areas, ample ‘setback’ buffers away from the coast and clear protection for environmentally sensitive habitat areas.

Setback policies need to be set far enough away from the coast or hazard area to adequately protect the structures and coastal environments. To account for dynamic and actively eroding shorelines, setbacks should be relative and not "fixed". As mentioned by Summers et al, 2018, "The implementation of a fixed distance setback law allowed building and road construction without regard to coastal erosion patterns, thus ensuring that at least some development will be threatened by erosion before its planned lifetime". It's important that minimum regulations are set at the state level to prevent piecemeal coastal preservation efforts, which is commonly experienced along the coast. A great summary of the current threats to the coastline from coastal development and exacerbated climate change, including the need for more effective coastal policies can be found in Failure to protect beaches under slowly rising sea level, by Summers et al, 2018. One of the lead authors, Dr. Chip Fletcher, recently won Surfrider Oahu’s John Kelly Award for Lifetime Achievement. The study focuses on impacts to Oahu's coast from climate change, sea level rise, and coastal erosion.

In this report, we present findings the states ability to meet the following checklist:

1. State has effective development setback policies.
2. State restricts new developments in coastal hazard areas.
3. State restricts repairing developments in coastal hazard areas.
4. State has policies that protect natural resources that provide coastal hazard mitigation benefits (e.g. dunes, wetlands, reefs).

State Coastal Development Reports

Select a state from the list below to view the Coastal Development indicator page for that state: