The Coastal Barrier Resource Act

It is the new year- an event often marked by resolutions.

Similar is the development of coastal areas.  Many think we shouldn't for one reason or another.  Many others think it feels good and there is money to be made.  Thus, we regularly build and regularly resolve to limit or refrain from building again.

A 2005 academic journal article sought to better understand the failures of the Coastal Barrier Resource Act (CBRA).  The author, David Salvesen, argued while the CBRA intended to limit development in specified areas, development continued because state and local government enabled it to through activities such as, infrastructure development and land management variations.

Too often, I think, the role of land management policy and those charged with upholding it are overlooked in meeting national development goals.

Because the act restricts the availability of federal aid to developments in CBRA zones,  Salvensen suggests the CBRA success is in limiting public exposure to development risk.

The act is often discussed as a means of controlling disaster losses.  While this is one intent of the act, its most substantial objective is preservation of the environment.  This is seen in the Congressional Findings and Purpose and implementing of the act by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
(a) The Congress finds that— 
(1) coastal barriers along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and along the shore areas of the Great Lakes of the United States and the adjacent wetlands, marshes, estuaries, inlets and nearshore waters provide— 
     (A) habitats for migratory birds and other wildlife; and
     (B) habitats which are essential spawning, nursery, nesting, and feeding areas for commercially and recreationally important species of finfish and shellfish, as well as other aquatic organisms such as sea turtles; 
(2) coastal barriers contain resources of extraordinary scenic, scientific, recreational, natural, historic, archeological, cultural, and economic importance; which are being irretrievably damaged and lost due to development on, among, and adjacent to, such barriers; 
(3) coastal barriers serve as natural storm protective buffers and are generally unsuitable for development because they are vulnerable to hurricane and other storm damage and because natural shoreline recession and the movement of unstable sediments undermine manmade structures; 
(4) certain actions and programs of the Federal Government have subsidized and permitted development on coastal barriers and the result has been the loss of barrier resources, threats to human life, health, and property, and the expenditure of millions of tax dollars each year; and 
(5) a program of coordinated action by Federal, State, and local governments is critical to the more appropriate use and conservation of coastal barriers. 
(b) The Congress declares that it is the purpose of this chapter to minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of Federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife, and other natural resources associated with the coastal barriers along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and along the shore areas of the Great Lakes by restricting future Federal expenditures and financial assistance which have the effect of encouraging development of coastal barriers, by establishing the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System, and by considering the means and measures by which the long-term conservation of these fish, wildlife, and other natural resources may be achieved.
The 1970s was a relative lull in hurricane landfalls.  As well, it was a time of great national economic difficulty.  The 1980's saw an abrupt turn towards Reagan era austerity and environmentalists angry with Reagan's approach towards EPA regulations.

Hence, in signing the Act in 1982, Reagan stated,
This legislation will enhance both wise natural resource conservation and fiscal responsibility. It will save American taxpayers million of dollars while, at the same time, taking a major step forward in the conservation of our magnificent coastal resources.
This matters because if CBRA is ultimately considered an environmental conservation policy rather than a wise-use/ land management policy (or something else more overarching or less special interest-y) then, development interests will likely win out over any restriction intended by the act.

Salvesen's article argued that the CBRA was not an outright failure.  It does limit development but not as much as one may have hoped.  Not only does success depend on the state and local government's willingness to stick to the rules, but the Act does not restrict those that can develop on their own dime to move into the area.

Perhaps then, the policy is a success.  It limited development to those that could afford to maintain their desired beach lifestyle.  Because these are few relative to the general public, it also protect the natural resources.


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