Institute for Water Resources

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Value to the Nation

Coasts: Coastal Shore Protection

With a large proportion of the U.S. population living near our sea and lake shores, and an estimated 75% of U.S. vacations being spent at the beach, there has been Federal interest – and a Corps of Engineers mission - in protecting these areas from hurricane and coastal storm damage.

The Corps looks for the most economical, environmentally sound and socially acceptable solutions to shore protection. In some cases, this will involve hard structures – jetties, seawalls, etc. In many other cases, a preferable approach is beach nourishment, the placement of sand along the beach. During storms the sand acts as a buffer and protects the structures behind the beach. Storm waves move the sand offshore, causing the waves to also break further offshore and provide less threat to property. Much of the sand that moves offshore during storms remains in the system and returns to the beaches, carried by the smaller waves prevalent during summer. Some sand will be lost from the system; yet this is often a wise investment, as the cost of replacing sand is many times less than the cost of repairing property damaged by a storm.

Corps shore protection projects are usually cost-shared with the State, the local jurisdiction where the project is located, or both. In cases where the project involves beach nourishment, the cost sharing agreement usually calls for periodic re-nourishment, often over a period of 50 years. The Federal Government has honored all such commitments. A 1996 study commissioned by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget concluded that Corps beach nourishment projects have performed generally as designed. Actual renourishment volumes, averaged over all projects, have been within 5% of predicted volumes. Actual costs have been 1% less than predicted costs for the initial beach restoration and 10% less than predicted costs for periodic nourishment.

Requests for shore protection projects nearly always come from communities where intense development has already taken place. Federal policy is that the local project sponsor provides 100% of the cost to protect undeveloped shorefront lands within an area where a Federal project has been recommended. In evaluating project performance, the Corps has found that Federal shore protection projects have had no measurable effect on encouraging more development. The Federal Government plays no role in decisions regarding land use along the shore. States and local authorities make these decisions and manage their shores.

The Corps of Engineers carries out shore protection projects at the request of local sponsors, as authorized and funded by Congress. Projects are performed only on publicly accessible beaches, and only after thorough studies have determined a positive cost to benefit ratio exists. Although Corps projects provide benefits such as shoreline protection, habitat protection and renewal, and the generation of tax dollars associated with that recreation, the primary purpose is always the protection of life and property.