NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The High Costs Of Shoreline Protection

August 23, 1999

For much of this century, governments have spent millions of dollars trying to keep the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico in their place -- that is, away from the residences of beachside dwellers. In nearly every case of shore erosion, the oceans eventually win.

  • The costs of the National Flood Insurance Program -- the only kind of insurance most shoreline dwellers can get any more -- and the Federal Emergency Management Administration expenditures that follow hurricanes and similar disasters have become an increasing burden to taxpayers.
  • Hurricane Andrew in 1992, for example, did some $24 billion in damage -- the worst of it in southeast Florida and southwestern Louisiana.
  • Plans are being considered to have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers replenish, through dredging and sand pumping, 130 miles of New Jersey coastline -- at a projected cost of $60 million per mile at least until 2045.
  • Many owners of bluff-top homes overlooking the Pacific in California have persuaded their local governments to install towering concrete cliff facings to halt erosion -- at a cost of millions of dollars.

Although such efforts won't stop beach and cliff erosion, the political pressure to continue the funding continues -- since roughly 80 percent of the U.S. population lives within an hour's drive of one coast or another.

Source: T.H. Watkins (Montana State University), "The Folly of Our Castles in the Sand," Washington Post, August 22, 1999.


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