State of the Beach/State Reports/AL/Erosion Response
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Erosion response is a measure of how well a state's policies and procedures limit the extent of shoreline armoring, unsafe coastal development, and costly beach nourishment projects. Evaluation of this indicator brings attention to the states that are taking proactive roles in natural beach preservation and natural hazard avoidance. Through the formulation (if not already in place), implementation, and strict adherence of the specific criteria within the indicator, states can overcome two fundamental obstacles to alternative erosion response practices outlined by the Oceans Studies Board (2007):
- A lack of knowledge and experience among decision-makers regarding alternative options for shoreline erosion response, the relative level of erosion mitigation afforded by the alternative approaches and their expected life time, and the nature of the associated impacts and benefits.
- The current legal and regulatory framework itself, which discriminates against innovative solutions because of the complex and lengthy permitting process that almost always considers these options on a case-by-case basis.
For example, are statewide oceanfront construction setbacks used to site new development and are these based on the latest erosion rates? When existing development is damaged during a storm does a state prohibit reconstruction or provide incentives for relocation? Before permitting shoreline stabilization does a state require: that there is demonstrated need via geo-technical reports with content standards; that alternatives to armoring including managed retreat/relocation are fully explored; and that potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects are taken into account? If a state can answer 'yes' to most of these questions then its rank is high and if the answers are mostly 'no' then its rank is low.
Also see the "Policies" discussion of the Shoreline Structures section of this report for more information on Alabama's erosion response.
Possible quantitative measures for this indicator include the number of new structures located within setback areas, number of damaged structures reconstructed in identified erosion zones, number of instances where alternatives to 'hard' shore protection were employed, the number of shoreline structures permitted under 'emergency' provisions, and the number of permits for shoreline structures reviewed, approved or denied. We have found that such information is rarely available.
Policies and Guidance
The ACAMP and SARPC have worked with several local governments regarding local hazards plans and beach and dune protection ordinances. ACAMP staff coordinated with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and local units of government on hazards planning, review, and development after Hurricane Katrina and participated in the Baldwin County Hazard Mitigation Plan and Orange Beach Flood Plain Hazard Mitigation Plan updates.
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.
Alabama has a Construction Control Line program that is intended to prevent construction too close to an eroding or subsiding shoreline. However, 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.”"
A goal of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium regarding Hazard Resilience in Coastal Communities is that "Sea Grant will use its integrated research, training and technical assistance capabilities and its presence in coastal communities to play a major role in helping local citizens, decision makers and industries plan for hazardous events and optimize the ability of their communities to respond, rebuild and recover."
On a regional level, funding from the RESTORE Act, led to the creation of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and preparation of a report Restoring the Gulf Coast's Ecosystem and Economy (August 2013). A update of this plan was being prepared in late 2016.
NOAA's Digital Coast website has a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia.
Coastal Barrier Resources Act
The federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), passed in 1982, was designed to "minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife and other natural resources" by denying federal support for everything from sewer construction to flood insurance in undeveloped or little-developed coastal areas such as barrier islands. CBRA does not restrict development in these areas, but it indirectly discourages development by denying the use of federal funds for development projects or redevelopment after storm or flood damage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers this program, which identified 1.3 million acres of coastal land to be covered by the act. Unfortunately, pressure by property owners and developers in these areas has lead Congress to pass dozens of exemption bills which exclude certain areas from CBRA, thus thwarting the intent of the Act.
The Coastal Barrier Improvement Act (CBIA) was enacted on November 16, 1990. The CBIA resulted in reauthorization of the CBRA of 1982. The CBRA establishes the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) to protect areas such as undeveloped coastal barrier islands. There is a discussion of CBRA on NOAA's web site that concludes:
"Although the removal of federal funding assistance has discouraged development in some coastal barrier islands, development has continued in other areas despite designation as a unit of the CBRS. CBIA is not intended to prevent or regulate development in high-risk areas; rather the intent is to direct that federal dollars not be spent for development in these areas. Activities conducted in areas adjacent to CBRS units may adversely impact these sensitive areas; these activities are not regulated under CBIA. In addition, CBIA does not restrict the use of private, local, or state funding within CBRS units. Some coastal states have initiated legislation that limits state funding of certain projects."
A report released in March 2007 reviews the extent to which (1) development has occurred in CBRS units since their inclusion in the system and (2) federal financial assistance and permits have been provided to entities in CBRS units. GAO electronically mapped address data for structures within 91 randomly selected CBRS units and collected information on federal financial assistance and permits for eight federal agencies. GAO found multiple federal agencies have provided some financial assistance to property owners in CBRS units that is expressly prohibited by CBRA; some assistance allowed under CBRA; and hundreds of permits for federally regulated development activities within the unit. GAO recommended, among other things, the four agencies that provided prohibited loan guarantees or insurance policies to CBRS units first verify and then cancel those that are in violation of CBRA.
On April 7, 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released to the public its Report to Congress: John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Digital Mapping Pilot Project and announced the start of a 90-day public comment period. The report, which was directed by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-514), highlights the benefits of updating Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) maps with more accurate and precise digital maps to better protect people, coastal areas and natural resources.
FEMA has now developed a fact sheet on CBRA. The fact sheet outlines the responsibilities and restrictions that various programs within FEMA have under CBRA.
Climate Change Adaptation
Alabama's DRAFT SECTION 309 ENHANCEMENT GRANT PROGRAM ASSESSMENT & STRATEGY, October 15, 2010 notes:
- "The risk and affects of sea level rise in Coastal Alabama is unknown and for the most part not discussed. However, today’s scientific and weather data and literature indicate that this is a risk that should be studied and planned for in all coastal areas.
- There is a complete lack of data and public knowledge and understanding of the affects of sea level rise in coastal Alabama. A strategy to implement a sea level rise educational program for local decision makers, especially local government officials and staff, will be developed. The strategy will be developed in conjunction with cumulative and secondary impacts and ocean resources enhancement areas."
Alabama’s Baldwin County Grasses in Classes Program is one of the “Climate Steward” examples provided in the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Climate Change, Wildlife, and Wildlands Toolkit for Formal and Informal Educators. Students cultivate and plant native grasses at restoration sites along Alabama’s Gulf of Mexico coast.
Alabama is a member of the StormSmart Coasts Network, sponsored by NOAA's Coastal Services Center. StormSmart Coasts "is a Web resource dedicated to helping decision makers in coastal communities address the challenges of storms, flooding, sea level rise, and climate change. More than just a website, 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."
General Reference Documents
EPA's Risk-Based Adaptation website (under the heading of Climate-Ready Estuaries) provides several resources and tools to help users identify, analyze, prioritize and reduce their climate change risks.
An informative publication is Ten Principles for Coastal Development (2007) by the Urban Land Institute.
The Coastal States Organization (CSO) has published two reports relating to climate change adaptation. The first is Coastal Community Resilience: An Evaluation of Resilience as a Potential Performance Measure of the Coastal Zone Management Act (July 2008). (No link to this could be found.) Developed by CSO staff and CSO’s Coastal Resilience Steering Committee, the document demonstrates the value of resilience to coastal management and offers concrete recommendations for enhancing resilience at the state and local level. The second document is The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs in Adaptation to Climate Change (September 2008)(PDF, 732KB). The report includes detailed results of a 2008 adaptation survey designed to obtain up to date information on the status of adaptation planning, priority information needs, and the anticipated resource needs of the coastal states, commonwealths, and territories.
In April 2009, the Heinz Center and Ceres announced the release of their Resilient Coasts - A Blueprint for Action, to outline steps to reduce risks and losses in the face of growing threats. The Heinz Center and Ceres produced the blueprint with a coalition of leading insurers, public officials, risk experts, builders, and conservation groups. The blueprint is endorsed by many groups, including The Travelers Institute, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wharton School, and the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. The blueprint includes policy changes and common sense actions that could reduce economic losses from future storms and rising sea levels by as much as half along U.S. coastlines. The blueprint outlines specific recommendations, including: enabling planning for climate impacts by providing the necessary science and decision-making tools; requiring risk-based land use planning; designing adaptable infrastructure and building code standards to meet future risk; strengthening ecosystems as part of a risk mitigation strategy; developing flexible adaptation plans; maintaining a viable private property and casualty insurance market; and integrating climate change impacts into due diligence for investment and lending. The coalition urges the Obama administration, Congress, local leaders and the private sector to see that blueprint actions are implemented through regulation, investment, education, and other means.
In January 2010 the National Association of Counties released Building Resilient Coastal Communities: Counties and the Digital Coast which highlights many of the Digital Coast resources that counties use to address coastal flooding, habitat conservation and land use. More resources, tools and data are available through NOAA's Digital Coast website.
More recently, NOAA Coastal Management has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.
StormSmart Coasts is a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards. StormSmart Legal is a new addition to the StormSmart Coasts Network that provides information about property rights, regulatory takings, and permissible government regulation in coastal areas.
In December 2012 NOAA's Climate Program Office released a report Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment. The report was produced in response to a request from the U.S. National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. It provides a synthesis of the scientific literature on global sea level rise, and a set of four scenarios of future global sea level rise. The report includes input from national experts in climate science, physical coastal processes, and coastal management.
NOAA's Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth website is organized into 10 chapters describing different elements essential for communities interested in implementing coastal and waterfront smart growth. By clicking on the individual chapters, you can get a description of each Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth Element, how this relates to the Coastal and Waterfront Issues, Tools and Techniques you can use in your community, and Case Studies of successes. Each chapter contains a navigation box allowing quick access to the information and the ability to download the content of each page. A 2012 report by NOAA and EPA on Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth presents ideas shared by smart growth and hazard mitigation experts related to building hazard-resilient coastal communities.
EPA has a website devoted to preparing for rising sea level and other consequences of changing climate. The premise of the Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise website is that society should take measures to make our coastal development and ecosystems less vulnerable to a rise in sea level. The papers on this site demonstrate that numerous low-cost measures, if implemented, would make the United States less vulnerable to rising sea level. A more recent EPA website is Adapting to Change.
Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities (USGS-NOAA, January 2013) emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change. The report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes. Case studies are presented for Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
In December 2012 the Lincoln Institute released Coastal States’ Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Sea Level Rise and Municipal Engagement (Working Paper). This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address sea level rise, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. It includes recommendations for ways states can provide adaptation support to municipalities.
Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures, (pdf, 1.2 MB) published in September 2013, discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capabilities to help reduce risks to coastal areas and improve resilience to coastal hazards through an integrated planning approach. Federal, state, local, non-governmental organization and private sector interests connected to our coastal communities possess a complementary set of authorities and capabilities for developing more integrated coastal systems. The effective implementation of an integrated approach to flood and coastal flood hazard mitigation relies on a collaborative, shared responsibility framework between Federal, state, and local agencies and the public.
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