News & Blog

Pilkey: Measures Needed to Protect Coasts in Face of Sea Level Rise

Posted on November 17, 2009

This article from Delaware On Linee

Orrin Pilkey (and son Roger) are two of the best known coastal experts in the US.

November 15, 2009

More radical measures urged to protect Del. beaches

By GREG BURTON

The News Journal

An international expert on beach replenishment offered advice for Delaware in the wake of last week’s nor’easter: Renourish the beaches this time to protect residents from the disaster of another storm but take more radical steps to prepare for future disasters.That includes systematically dismantling oceanfront infrastructure, relocating homes and pushing developments inland, said Orrin H. Pilkey, emeritus professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and author of “The Corps and the Shore” and this year’s “The Rising Sea,” which he co-authored.

“Immediately prohibit any high-rise construction,” he said. “Make a study of how to demolish buildings. Any building in bad shape has to be immediately destroyed. Start doing it bit by bit by bit, not just moving them back, but removing buildings. And, after a major storm, don’t repair it.”

Property owners should begin financing their own beach replenishment projects, a move he said would dramatically lower the hyper-inflated property value of beachfront property.Regulations should be enacted to curb development, he said, and buffers should be enforced.

Instead, coastal development creates an artificial system of sea walls and beaches elongated to protect businesses and homes encroaching on the shore.A report released last month by a team of scientists and planners suggested that along the East Coast, as much as 60 percent of the land in low-lying areas is developed.

The scientists at Environmental Research Letter, in a report funded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, focused on areas less than 3 feet above sea level.They estimate that less than 10 percent of these low lands from Massachusetts to Florida is set aside for conservation.Such coastal foresight is reckless,

Pilkey said.”Relocation is likely to be the most economically feasible response to sea level change over the long term. However, coastal communities still seldom give it serious consideration,” he writes in “The Rising Sea.”

Tony Pratt, Delaware’s shorelines and waterway administrator, said just the opposite is true. Relocation would be much more costly than beach renourishment, he said, citing a study done for the state that examined the cost of relocating 65 houses along one mile of beach in South Bethany.

Pratt said it would cost about $32 million to buy those houses and millions more to pay for the removal of sewer lines and other relocation issues, for a total cost of about $40 million. After that first row of homes is removed, it would cost another $40 million to remove the second row, he said.”That would mean $80 million in expense to gain about the same amount of beach that would cost $10 million” through renourishment programs, he said.

“Dr. Pilkey’s notions are not in keeping with good economic strategy that makes good sense,” he said. “His approach is naive and says to walk away from the problem.”

If nothing is done, erosion would cause oceanfront homes to fall into the sea, Pratt said.

On that point, Pilkey and Pratt agree.

But Pilkey said developers and government leaders often overstate the cost of abandonment and underestimate the cost of beach replenishment. Most replenishment projects run by the Army Corps of Engineers, he said, fail to account for seasonal scouring from storms when predicting how long a new beach will last.

“Although the cost of the move-back alternative will be highly variable, depending on many factors, the argument is often made by pro-development groups that retreat is more costly than beach nourishment,” he wrote in “The Rising Sea.”

A 2007 newsletter of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) quotes a study claiming that in the state of Delaware, retreat would be four times more costly than beach nourishment for the foreseeable future. The article estimates that the cost of nourishing Delaware’s beaches for the next 50 years will be $60 million. A close look at that state’s spending, however, indicates that $60 million has been spent for beach nourishment in just the years 2001 to 2007!”

There is historical precedence for relocating or abandoning beach developments. After the 1962 Ash Wednesday storm, platted homes and roads were abandoned on Assateague Island. More recently, North Topsail Beach, N.C., used eminent domain to condemn homes damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Ophelia.”My personal view is that we should pay them, but not necessarily the inflated value of beachfront property,” Pilkey said.

“Much, if not most, of beachfront property is investment. I’m very reluctant to reward somebody who did something so stupid as to build next to an eroding shoreline.”

One response to “Pilkey: Measures Needed to Protect Coasts in Face of Sea Level Rise”

  1. GlennK says:

    Dr.Pilkey has been amazingly consistent for decades now on what he feels is the only feasible long-term strategy for dealing with coastal over-development and its destructive effects on the country’s beaches. He’s ignored and he’s castigated by the powerful DC-based SAND LOBBY and its hundreds of parasitic client Corps. and Gov’t agencies that make a fortune off of so-called beach replenishment projects. Nevertheless, Orrin stands his ground on this and is confident that eventually his remedies and its attendant forecasts on the issue will prevail.

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