State of the Beach/State Reports/AL/Shoreline Structures
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Property owners must first consider managed retreat and other soft stabilization methods to protect properties on Gulf beaches and primary dunes, but if deemed ‘infeasible,’ they can refer to armoring. Alabama has been doing a lot of work on living shorelines, especially as a remediation tactic after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Although shoreline stabilization policies promote the use of soft and living structures, hard stabilization techniques are still the most prevalent mechanisms. Therefore, it’s likely that the state is using a fairly lenient definition of ‘infeasible.’
Uses subject to ACAMP have been divided into two categories: regulated and nonregulated. A regulated use has a direct and significant impact on the coastal area and requires a state permit or is required by federal law to be consistent with ACAMP. A use that necessitates a state permit must receive a certificate of compliance. A non-regulated use may have a direct and significant impact on the coastal area but does not require a state permit or federal consistency certification. Examples of non-regulated uses include construction and other activities on Gulf beaches and dunes, commercial and residential development greater than five acres, groundwater extraction, and shoreline stabilization and erosion mitigation. Non-regulated uses must be consistent with ACAMP and may or may not require local permits.
Local governments may participate in ACAMP by developing local codes, regulations, rules, ordinances, plans, maps, or other means to issue permits or licenses for non-regulated activities that have direct and significant impacts on the coastal area. If these instruments are certified consistent with ACAMP, ADEM may delegate its beach and dune permit authority to a local government to administer, thereby eliminating the need for ADEM to review each case individually.
The City of Gulf Shores and the City of Orange Beach have assumed authority for beach and dune permits since the approval of the ACAMP.
Construction on Gulf-fronting Properties
ADEM Division 8 Coastal Programs rules require that an ADEM permit or other authorization be obtained prior to constructing any new structure or substantially improving any existing structure, on a property intersected by or seaward of the ADEM construction control line.
This includes habitable structures( single family dwellings, duplexes, motels, hotels and condominiums), non-habitable structures (gazebos, dune walkovers, etc.) and hardened erosion control structures.
Permit application can be obtained from the Coastal Section Office, at the local building departments in the City of Orange Beach, the Town of Dauphin Island and the Baldwin County Coastal Program Office in Foley or can be downloaded from ADEM's website.
The City of Gulf Shores and the City of Orange Beach are delegated to implement the permitting, monitoring and enforcement section of the ADEM Division 8 Coastal Program rule related to construction on Gulf-fronting beaches and dune. Persons wishing to conduct such activities within the corporate limits of the City of Gulf Shores should contact the City of Gulf Shores Building Department. or City of Orange Beach as appropriate.
A huge problem exists with implementing the program rules - Alabama’s coastal construction rules were written so long ago that much of the land they were designed to protect disappeared underwater years ago due to chronic erosion. And, the way the rules were written, officials now have little if any authority over construction on the existing shoreline. An article published at al.com in January 2012 discussed this issue in the context of two seawalls built in front of private residences on Dauphin Island:
- "Not so for the two seawalls, which were built in February 2010 and October 2011. State officials said they lacked jurisdiction over the construction of the walls because they were behind the state’s so called “Construction Control Line” or CCL. The CCL is an invisible line that runs along the Alabama coast and was established to prevent construction in areas such as sand dunes. No construction is allowed south of the line, which was established in 1979, according to former ADEM officials. The problem is that Dauphin Island has eroded so much since 1979 that the line is now way offshore and underwater. In effect, that means the state has virtually no authority to stop construction of seawalls a few feet from the water’s edge along the Gulf beach. “Absent the lot being seaward of or intersected by the CCL, construction of a wall on private property (not in a wetlands) is not regulated by the ADEM Coastal Program rules,” ADEM spokesman Scott Hughes said in an email. “The department’s direct authority is limited to location of the lot relative to the CCL.”"
Commercial and Residential Developments Greater than 5 Acres in Size
ADEM Division 8 Coastal Program rules require that a permit be obtained for all new commercial and residential developments located wholly or partially within the coastal area which are or will be greater than five (5) acres in size and which:
- have areas which are or could be delineated as wetlands; or
- are adjacent to coastal waters; or
- are intercepted by the coastal control line.
Permit applications can be obtained from the Coastal Section Office by calling (251) 432-6533 or you can download the form from ADEM's website.
Projects which include potential impacts to waterbottoms or the dredging and/or filling of wetlands will require permits and/or certifications from ADEM, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and, in some instances, the State Oil and Gas Board, and/or the ALDCNR-State Lands Division.
The ADEM review of these types of projects is normally initiated when the property owner makes application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Some of these projects, such as the construction of residential piers and projects involving minimal wetlands impacts, may be permitted under a pre-certified USACE General or Nationwide Permit and will not require further review by the Department.
Many projects will require an Individual Permit from the USACE, which will be jointly reviewed by the USACE and ADEM concurrently. This includes:
- Marinas, including the expansion of existing marinas
- Shoreline stabilization such as seawalls, bulkheads, jetties, groins and similar structures
- Beach nourishment projects
- Major dredging projects
- Projects involving more than minimal impacts to wetlands
- Placement of oil and gas platforms over waterbottoms
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District has project information and a GIS database of shoreline structures along the Alabama coast. This information does not appear to be easily accessible by the general public.
In July 2012 the Orange Beach City Council passed a resolution authorizing an "emergency fix" for erosion on Robinson Island in Perdido Bay. The quick fix is to spend about $20,000 to put rip rap along that northern shore. The long-term solution may be more costly and may involve making the area a “no wake” zone. Also being discussed as part of the long-term solution is dredging the adjacent channel and using the sand to rebuild the eroded parts of the island. The city is working with the Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Conservation and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management on solutions for the erosion.
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.
Public Education Program
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 authors of the book Living with the Alabama-Mississippi Shore offer a vivid, historical overview for understanding the environment of the Alabama-Mississippi shore. They describe the risks faced by new residents, and they point the way toward safe and sane coastal development.
Alabama is part of the StormSmart Coasts Network that provides useful information and guidance dedicated to helping decision makers in coastal communities address the challenges of storms, flooding, sea level rise, and climate change. This network of state and local sites gives coastal decision makers a definitive place to find and share the best resilience-related resources available, and provides tools for collaboration. Posts on this website include articles on Do Seawalls Cause More Harm Than Good?, New Climate Change Adaptation Tools, and Quick Proof That Building Codes Work.
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