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Environmentally sensitive, progressive Oregon just earned a C- from Surfrider Foundation for its work — or lack thereof — addressing coastal erosion and protection, and haphazard development and sea level rise.
The foundation’s annual State of the Beach report is compiled each year to focus on issues related to beach access, surfing, water quality, beach erosion, shoreline structures and beach ecology.
But Oregon isn’t the only one pulling down the grade point average, according to the nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches.
The results — the grading portion of the report is new this year — show that 22 of 30 coastal states and Puerto Rico need dramatic improvement.
The states that received the lowest grades were those typically impacted by extreme weather events, which scientists say are only going to increase in the decades to come. And those situations require continued financial support from the federal government.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about half of the coastlines examined are either at a “high” or “very high” risk due to coastal erosion. That phenomenon — both natural and influenced by man — causes about $500 million in property loss each year. The federal government spends an average of $150 million each year to “replenish beaches” and conduct other erosion control measures.
Sea level rise is another topic being addressed more aggressively in other countries than in the United States, but many low-lying lands here lie in the path of rising waters, particularly in Florida, Texas, New York City and other states.
“Rising tides will likely impact coastal economies, communities, public access, recreation and healthy ecosystems,” the report reads.
Residents in Southern Florida routinely wade knee-deep through high tides flowing through major streets. Texans routinely rebuild in flood plains, with the financial blessing of the federal government’s flood insurance program.
While Oregon has policies that provide protection for beaches, dunes and other natural features, the state has eased up on previously strong regulations, allowing for haphazard development and “armoring,” or protection, the report reads.
On the plus side, the state has been looking ahead, assessing and planning for coastal impacts of climate change.
Surfrider based its grades on four criteria and were graded “good,” “bad” or “OK.”
•Sediment management: Oregon earned an OK on its statewide sediment management policies, but the grade was brought down due to the state’s lacks of a sand replenishment policy.
“Fortunately, Oregon does not rely on beach replenishment projects to the same extent as many other states,” the report reads. “However, the state can improve by developing a clear policy that requires analysis of environmental and recreational impacts prior to a project’s approval and the review of the long-term effectiveness of those projects.
•Coastal Armoring: Oregon earned one point out of 17 for this criteria.
“At first glance, the state appears to be proactive with coastal armoring, as Oregon maps the locations of all known structures and their permit and repair information, providing a way to monitor and manage shoreline armoring,” the report reads. “Oregon also has established policies that limit armoring. However, with every El Niño year, beaches and dunes are increasingly susceptible to storm activity and erosion.”
The state, the report said, continues to ease up on its coastal preservation and erosion policies, including its statewide planning goals. Additionally, armoring, particularly the use of riprap, is increasingly permitted under ‘emergency’ status, and the state seems to “allow loopholes for preemptive armoring”
•Development: Oregon’s building restrictions prohibit construction of residential and commercial buildings on beaches and dunes that are not stable for infrastructure or are subject to ocean flooding. However, policies do not restrict repair and reconstruction of damaged properties along the coast. In addition, statewide mandatory setbacks are not in place for coastal developments.
That data resulted in another “bad” score for the state. Other challenges it and other states face is past development on a steep ocean bluffs that are increasingly eroding away, both due to more extreme storms battering them and water flowing from the land.
•Sea Level Rise: Oregon earned a “good” rating on this criteria, as it has been “prudently preparing for climate change and its impacts by publishing a vulnerability assessment, identifying critical infrastructure and preparing a climate adaptation plan for coastal communities,” the report reads.
It says Gov. Tom McCall’s forward-thinking Beach Bill, approved in 1967 and that guarantees public access to all beaches is “impressive,” but adds that it “remains to be seen if thorough guidance and community outreach will be established by local coastal managers to truly protect coastal areas and resources.”
The report recommends Oregon:
•Reduce the amount of emergency permitting for seawalls and other coastal armoring
•Develop a sand replenishment policy that requires the analysis of environmental and recreational impacts prior to project approval and institute a monitoring program that reviews long-term effectiveness of replenishment projects;
•Set statewide minimum development setback policies and establish repair and rebuilding restrictions for infrastructure damaged by coastal hazards;
•Ensure local agencies and coastal managers communicate with the community about climate change issues;
•Close loopholes for preemptive armoring and adhere consistently to coastal preservation and erosion policies.
Other states that scored higher generally had stronger policies regarding coastal building setbacks, prohibitions against coastal armoring and rebuilding in coastal hazard areas, and support for incorporating sea level rise and coastal adaptation into planning documents.
Among them were California, Washington with A grades and all those in the New England states, which earned B grades. No Great Lakes, Southeast or Gulf state beaches earned a grade of A or B; even Alaska earned a failing grade.
“The results of State of the Beach report card reveal the critical need for improved coastal management practices to mitigate and reduce the impacts of coastal erosion and sea level rise,” the report reads in conclusion. “The findings indicate many states are not addressing these important issues adequately enough to protect our nation’s coastal resources.
“As extreme weather events become more consistent and noticeable, it is even more important for our nation’s decision-makers to take immediate steps to actively plan for climate change impacts.
“Once these unique and special areas are gone, they’re gone for good, for today and the future.”
To view the entire report card, visit http://publicfiles.surfrider.org/SOTB-2017/SOTB-Report_110417_FNL.pdf.