Solving sea level rise flooding challenges requires public/private partnerships. For example, when a coastal community is defending itself against repeated flooding events, government officials may have to require that both public and private seawalls be raised to a certain height to create a continuous barrier to stop the floodwaters.
Sometimes, however, public and private interests are at odds and difficult decisions have to be made. Such is the case at Debordieu Beach in South Carolina.
According to an article in The State newspaper, the owners of four homes built a sandbag seawall to protect their property from severe beach erosion at a point where a wooden seawall is failing. In keeping with state law, staff members at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) ordered the seawall removed.
The property owners responded to the order by exploiting a loophole in the law. They found a scientist at Coastal Carolina University who agreed to study how well the sandbags performed as a seawall after they were buried during a beach nourishment project. Such experiments can be approved by the DHEC if there’s a chance they will succeed.
The staff members remained steadfast in their opposition to the seawall, saying that the science is established. Past experience has shown the seawall will make erosion of the public beach even worse. South Carolina has banned hard seawalls for this reason for many years.
On a 3-to-2 vote the DHEC’s politically appointed board voted to overrule the staff and allow the sandbag seawall to remain.
Observers are concerned that the board’s decision will lead to more property owners installing sandbag seawalls or other experimental methods to protect their real estate with the potential loss of sandy beaches.
This type of public/private conflict is occurring in other areas, too. For example, property owners in Charleston, SC, and Miami, FL, are concerned that high barriers proposed to stop storm surge will block their views. And homeowners in Miami Beach, FL, have sued the city after roads elevated to stop sea level rise flooding have actually led to their property being flooded by rainstorm runoff.
As sea level continues to rise, there’s bound to be more conflict between public/private interests. In cases where what’s good for the public isn’t necessarily good for a private real estate owner, following the science for the greater good is the best policy. Seeking solutions that help property owners to adapt to any changes made that impact their property or fairly compensating them when sacrifice is the only solution has to be part of the mix, too.