Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Could Supreme Court Decision Discourage Future Funding for Beach Nourishment?

This year the federal government will spend an estimated $103.7 million on beach nourishment  projects
. Beach nourishment is the practice of rebuilding sand beaches lost to erosion along the nation’s coastlines.  Many of the projects are in front of shoreline communities, where houses and businesses are threatened by erosion each year.  Many of these communities have stated that without federal funding, houses and businesses will wash away as beach erosion moves inland.  Over the years there has been substantial public debate over whether this is a good use of government funds.

On Wednesday December 2 the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, Docket No. 08-1151.   The case arose in 2004, when property owners filed a lawsuit to halt the planned restoration of beaches in Walton County along the Florida Panhandle. Under the state’s Beach and Shore Preservation Act, counties and cities can restore beaches eroded by hurricanes and storms by adding sand beyond a state-designated erosion control line, which separates private property from state property. Sand placed beyond the line becomes public beach because the projects are funded with state and federal dollars.

A Florida district court ruled in 2006 that the state’s restoration effort constituted an uncompensated taking, depriving property owners of their right to maintain contact with the water and their “right to accretion,” which is the gradual accumulation of land by natural forces. Last September, the Florida Supreme Court reversed the lower court order.

Twenty-six states, the U.S. government, the National Association of Counties, and others have filed amicus briefs supporting the state’s plan to create a state-owned public beach between private waterfront land and the ocean.  The Cato Institute, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and the Nationals Association of Home Builder are included among the organizations filing briefs in support of the private landowners.   A complete list of merit and amicus briefs can be found on the American Bar Associations website at (scroll down to December 2)

While the case revolves around state law and whether the beach renourishment project is a takings,  the decision could ultimately affect future funding to beach building projects.  The case that will be argued on Wednesday takes place at the same time that sea level rise and climate change are likely to increase erosion along coastlines.  In addition currently the National Flood Insurance Program is up for reauthorization and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is asking stakeholder for ideas about how to revise the program The Administration is in the process of revising the Principles and Guidelines for Water Resources Planning, which guides the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in deciding whether a proposed project is cost effective.

If the benefits of maintaining coastlines do not fall to the general public, or are enjoyed only by a few—will taxpayers be willing to continue to bear the cost?  That question is likely to be considered in these and other venues in the coming year.

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