State of the Beach/State Reports/AK/Shoreline Structures

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Federal law requires landowners to apply for a permit from the Corps of Engineers (Corps) to place fill in intertidal waters. The corps does not evaluate the seawall or other structure applications on how well they would work. Its main concern is if the project complies with the Clean Water Act or the Rivers and Harbors Act.

There are many Corps stream-bank and shore protection and coastal storm damage reduction studies and projects carried out in Alaska. These actions are carried out under the following federal and state authorities:

Under the Continuing Authorities Program the Corps can provide emergency stream-bank and shore protection through Section 14 of the 1946 Flood Control Act, and coastal storm damage reduction under Section 103 of the 1962 Rivers and Harbors Act. Congressional authorization of coastal storm damage reduction projects is provided by the 1946 Shore Protection Act. In addition, the Corps can provide technical assistance to Native American Tribes under the Tribal Partnership Program authorized by Section 203 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000.

Alaska Specific Authorities:

  • Rivers and Harbors in Alaska study resolution adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Public Works on December 2, 1970 provides authority for study of storm damage reduction measures for Barrow, Alaska. This is a study authority only.
  • Section 116 of Public Law (PL) 99-190, enacted in 1986, directed the Corps to accomplish emergency bank stabilization work at Bethel, Dillingham, and Galena, Alaska, at full Federal cost.
  • Alaska Villages Erosion Technical Assistance (AVETA). AVETA was authorized as a cost shared Tribal Partnership study in the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution of 2003. Section 112 of the Conference Report Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act of 2004 revised funding for this study as 100% Federal. The legislation directed the Corps to investigate and prepare a report for Congress on the impacts of coastal erosion due to continued climate change and other factors for the communities of Bethel, Dillingham, Shishmaref, Kaktovik, Kivalina, Unalakleet, and Newtok. This is a study authority only.
  • Alaska Baseline Erosion Assessment. Authorized by the FY 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Conference Report, the Corps was directed to coordinate and plan the appropriate responses and assistance for Alaska villages in the most need and provide an overall assessment on the priority of which villages should receive assistance. This work is conducted under the technical studies provision of the Tribal Partnership Program but is 100% Federally funded. The authorization also included feasibility studies for Kivalina, Newtok, Shishmaref, and Unalakleet, and provided for general studies of the Long-Term Alaska Wind, Wave and Surge Climatology study, and the Kaktovik Cultural study. This is a study authority only.
  • Section 117 of the FY 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act authorized the Corps to carry out, at full Federal expense, structural and non-structural projects for storm damage prevention and reduction, coastal erosion, and ice and glacial damage in Alaska, including relocation of affected communities and construction of replacement facilities. This is a construction authority.
  • Alaska Coastal Erosion (ACE). The Energy and Water Appropriation Bill of 2006 authorized ACE projects for Kivalina, Newtok, Shishmaref, Koyukuk, Barrow, Kaktovik, Point Hope, Unalakleet, and Bethel, and specified that Section 117 would apply to these projects. HQUSACE implementation guidance for ACE projects included preparation of an expedited decision document modeled on the Section 14 report, preparation of construction documents, and project construction.

Here are State of Alaska Erosion Management Policy and District Enforceable Policies.

Additional laws or regulations relating to coastal armoring include:

The State of Alaska's Erosion Management Policy is quoted below. Note that this is a policy only, and that it applies only to state-funded and state pass-through projects. Shoreline structures are allowed but several policies in this document suggest important erosion control measures, such as evaluating the use of nonstructural alternatives.

"Erosion threatens individual structures, roads, airports, utility infrastructure and in some locales, entire communities (city, village, subdivision) can be at risk. This policy concerns state-funded and state pass-through funded construction. Other entities in Alaska who construct erosion control structures, or propose development near coastal waters or rivers, are encouraged to consider the following siting, design, and construction policies. Special Appropriations by the Legislature have been the primary method of funding most (non-federally funded) erosion control structures (bulkheads, sea walls, rock revetments, etc.). No State of Alaska departments have authority to build erosion control structures, or to maintain already constructed erosion control structures, intended to protect privately owned facilities, roads or land. This is intended as general policy. State agencies are encouraged to develop their own, more detailed guidance related to state actions adjacent to water bodies.

  1. Before constructing erosion control measures, state agencies should analyze nonstructural alternatives, such as relocating threatened structures, and if consistent with law, proceed with the option that has the greatest benefit for the least cost.
  2. State funded projects should not cause adverse erosion effects to adjacent (unprotected) properties or habitat.
  3. Erosion control structures should not be built to protect minimally used or vacant land.
  4. New structures should be located so that erosion control is not likely to be needed within the structure's design life. If such structures are at risk of erosion loss/damage, the cost of erosion safeguards should be considered.
  5. The cause of the erosion problem (water, ice, wind, current, waves, thermal degradation, precipitation, seepage), and factors that increase or accelerate erosion (such as gravel removal, boat wakes, shoreline vegetation removal) should be identified before alternative solutions are proposed.
  6. Erosion control projects should be sited and designed using appropriate engineering principles. Consideration should include, but not limited to:
    • Design life of a specified project, or survivability to a specified level or event (e.g. 1 percent flood, base flood elevation, 30-year, 60-year project design life, piling depth necessary to withstand scour).
    • Performing an analysis to determine rate of erosion, then avoid building in area that would erode in life of building.
    • Provide erosion control protection as part of the project development.
  7. A state-funded erosion control project shall include stamped drawings designed by a registered engineer in Alaska. The completed structure must conform to these design drawings.
  8. Communities with structural erosion control measures, or erosion-prone areas, should be encouraged to incorporate appropriate flood risk and erosion mitigation planning considerations into local comprehensive plans, ordinances, and subdivision approvals.
  9. Communities which receive state funds for erosion protection should be encouraged to prepare an erosion (and if appropriate, flood) mitigation plan, and land use regulation(s) to prevent losses and to guide development in high-risk erosion and flood-prone areas.
  10. To the extent practical, and consistent with state law, priority for state funds for erosion hazards should be given to communities which have an erosion (and if appropriate, flood) mitigation plan, or land use regulation(s) indicating measures are being taken locally to prevent future losses and development in high risk erosion areas.
  11. If the state finds building, platting, land use regulations within the affected jurisdiction(s) are inadequate and therefore have added substantially to the magnitude of a state declared disaster, public recovery assistance should be limited to a disaster loan until essential changes in such regulations are adopted.

An erosion assessment should be performed if major state-funded development is proposed on property adjacent to a body of water. Examples of acceptable erosion assessments include:

  • Existing reports that include an erosion rate estimate.
  • Site evaluation by a registered engineer, or water resources specialist.
  • Long period, low altitude aerial photography can be compared to ascertain shoreline movement. However, long-period adequate scale aerial photography is often not available. Many river shore and coastal shoreline areas are subject to dramatic short-term changes, often measuring several hundred feet in major storms or during a high water season. Modeling to depict impact on recession rates has not been developed.

In determining how large a setback to adopt, or how stringent building design and construction standards should be, or whether structural erosion control measures are needed, accurate hazard delineation is needed. Erosion hazards data should meet three tests: 1) Data should be realistic (tested against academic models and/or past experience); 2) Data should be available for use (not too costly to secure or too time-consuming to generate or use); 3) Data should be legally defensible. This standard does not require perfection, but it does require reasonable accuracy."

Juneau has no city regulations against coastal armoring.


An inventory of shoreline structures in Alaska was not readily available. If any such inventories do exist, they are probably compiled only on a coastal district or municipal level. DNR staff believes that an inventory should be developed. New projects could then be tracked through the coastal zone consistency process.

A very small percentage (perhaps less than 0.02%) of the coast is believed to be armored. The length of armored coastline is believed to be less than 10 miles.[1]

In September 2006 it was reported that a new $3 million seawall designed to stop erosion in the northwest Alaska Inupiat village of Kivalina was damaged during the season's first storm. About 160 feet of the 1,800-foot-long, 40-foot-wide wall was damaged. The storm came the same day state and federal officials planned to attend a ceremonial feast for the wall's completion. The event was cancelled.

The wall is made from beach sand piled into rigid wire baskets lined with a synthetic fabric. The borough will likely temporarily patch the damage using heavy nylon sacks packed with sand. Kivalina is located on a thin barrier island about 650 miles northwest of Anchorage.

A similar situation occurred in September 2007 when a storm removed about 500 "supersacks" that had been fortifying the seawall. About the same number of 3,600-pound sandbags were then added to the wall to fortify it.

Shoreline structures are not common in Southeast Alaska. The Coastal District Coordinator for the Community Development Department in Juneau said that maybe 10 houses had shoreline structures protecting them. A concern with armoring along salmon streams is a far bigger concern to the Department.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating alternatives to deal with erosion along the Kenai River bluff in Kenai and is discussing potential projects with city officials. The bluff stabilization project entails studies of sediment transport, hydrology, bird and fish use, environmental impacts of wave reflection on wetlands, aging characteristics of the river and other concerns. Although nominally a seawall project, consideration will also be given to real estate purchases, easements, potential removal of existing bluff-top structures, and placement of a bluff-top trail. Unfortunately, there is no present budget authorization for construction (see below), so a solution (other than retreat from the bluff) seems years away.

The Kenai City Council was scheduled to review and potentially approve a capital improvement list in September 2008 that included $18 million in funding requests for bluff stabilization. The $18 million for the bluff would be in addition to $1.5 million previously appropriated by the Alaska congressional delegation and $2 million in bonds approved by the voters in 2007.

Status of Protection/Intervention Actions at High Risk Communities (2007) is a paper from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that provides information on Corps of Engineers stream-bank and shore protection activities. Rock revetment projects at Shishmaref, Unalakleet and Kivalina are discussed. There is also a 3-slide presentation covering the same subjects.

The Reports and Studies section of the website for the Alaska District of the US Army Corps of Engineers has links to reports for all active projects.

Some costs of state funded legislative appropriations for the period 1972-1991 are available from the contact person listed below.

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.


Christy Miller
National Flood Insurance Program State Coordinator
Phone: (907) 269-4567

Perception of Effectiveness

DNR staff indicates that the policies are poorly implemented and are not well-known by the permitting and funding agencies. They believe existing policies do not adequately balance the need for armoring to protect private property against the need to preserve public beach.[2]

Public Education Program

There was field training in SFY10 by state Fish & Game Department staff on bank stabilization. There is also a grant program in the Kenai River area to encourage landowner stewardship in natural bank stabilization. The field training was sponsored by non-CZM money through the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund. The grant program in Kenai is funded with non-309 Enhancement funds. There has been public and agency reaffirmation and standardization of effective bank stabilization design using non-hardened structures.


  1. Chas Dense, Coastal Resource Specialist, Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response, January 2004.
  2. Chas Dense, Coastal Resource Specialist, Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response, January 2004.

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