Buying out threatened oceanfront homes is not a crazy idea – Coastal Review

Collapsed house in Rodanthe on evening of Feb. 9, 2022 (courtesy National Park Service, public domain via Flickr).
Collapsed house in Rodanthe on evening of Feb. 9, 2022 (courtesy National Park Service, public domain via Flickr).

The oceanfront shoreline of Rodanthe has one of the highest erosion rates on the U.S. East Coast (recently upwards of 20 feet per year). Many homes that were initially constructed well back from the beach are now at risk of constant flooding and imminent collapse. A typical response to this erosion in Dare County (and most coastal communities) would be the implementation of a beach nourishment project. It is unclear whether this is practical for Rodanthe, as the geologic setting is problematic.

With such high erosion rates, episodes of renourishment would be frequent, driving up costs significantly. A recently released report entitled: Rodanthe Sand Needs Assessment Dare County, North Carolina (Coastal Science and Engineering, 2023), recommends an initial project at a cost of approximately $40 million. Costs for long-term beach maintenance bring the total to about $120 million over the next 15 years. This assumes that the sand from each nourishment placement will last around five years, which may be a bit of a stretch along this shoreline.

The CSE study indicates there could be modest cost savings from the construction of groins along this shoreline. We did not consider this analysis since groins are not permitted by law on the North Carolina oceanfront due to the inevitable downdrift harm caused by the interruption of longshore sediment transport. Even with beach nourishment, there will be periods of time between sand placement episodes when the beach will narrow, and the most exposed homes will be in the waves.

On the other hand, doing nothing has resulted in numerous high-profile incidents of homes collapsing into the sea, while septic tanks are exhumed and broken open. These events cause both environmental harm and a risk to public safety and health (the intertidal beach in this area is a part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore). Clearly, doing nothing is the worst option.

One alternative solution to nourishment is to implement a buyout plan for highly exposed properties.

Buyouts are rarely a first choice within coastal communities for a variety of reasons, both practical and emotional. Property owners must be interested in selling, and it can be difficult to negotiate a price.

Unlike nourishment, buyouts provide a longer-term solution to erosion, allow for a continuous beach over many years, and eliminate the environmental and public safety hazards associated with collapsing homes. In some areas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has carried out buyouts in conjunction with beach nourishment to allow for the construction of protective dunes.

To compare the costs of a possible buyout to the costs of beach nourishment in Rodanthe, we at the Western Carolina University Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines conducted a simple analysis to identify and estimate the value of highly exposed oceanfront properties


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