Tag Archives: Rob Young

From the mountains to the sea: Coastal geologist speaks his mind

Mantoloking, NJ. Aerial pictures of New Jersey’s coast, after superstorm Sandy devastated the area. Photo courtesy of: © Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines (PSDS) / WCU


Coastal geologist Rob Young explains how the ocean is flooding coastal property and threatening to consume more land at a time of increasing temperatures, rising sea levels and extreme weather.

“We are trying to communicate science to decision-makers,’’ he said…

Read Full Article, The State (12-24-2016)

The Beach Boondoggle; Op Ed by Robert Young

Beach-renourishement operations, Waikiki 2012. Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care.
“Hawaii’s famed Waikiki Beach started to erode again, less than a year after the completion of a $2.2 million project to replenish the sand on about 1,730 feet of shoreline that had been suffering from chronic erosion.”Captions.
“Development is absolutely responsible for the majority of the beach nourishment,” Andrew Coburn, assistant director of The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, said. “Well over 99 percent of the shorelines that are nourished are developed so there is some economic value placed behind them.”


Hurricane Matthew was not a megadisaster like Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina, but if precedent holds, simply rebuilding the beaches may cost federal taxpayers billions of dollars…

Read Full Article, The New York Times (10-12-2016)

Coastal geologist criticizes beach renourishment efforts; By Robert S. Young, PhD; The State (08-17-2016)
Rob Young, who heads the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, said the government is subsidizing coastal development with renourishment money – and that’s costing taxpayers. Communities across the country have spent millions of dollars renourishing beaches. Those efforts encourage people to rebuild after every major hurricane…

Sandy Reminds Us of Coastal Hazards, by Robert Young (10-2012)

Hurricane Matthew’s Destructive Storm Surges Hint at New Normal, National Geographic (11-10-2016)

How Your Taxes Help Inflate The Value Of Coastal Properties Threatened By Climate Change; ThinkProgress (06-05-2015)

Column: The future of Florida’s beaches and the public’s right to know; Op Ed. by Orrin Pilkey, (12-07-2015)

That ‘More Realistic’ Sea-Level Report? Not Good News for NC, by Robert Young; News Observer (05-06-2015)

A Beach Project Built on Sand; By Robert S. Young, PhD, in The New York Times (08-22-2014)

Coastal Barrier Resources System: Testimony of Robert S. Young, PhD; (04-07-2014)

“The Rising Sea”A Book by Orrin H. Pilkey and Robert Young

Palm Beach Mid-Town Dredge Project, A Youtube Video (02-04-2015)
“Beach nourishment projects like this have become commonplace along the US East and Gulf Coasts. These projects have immediate environmental impacts through burial of nearshore habitat and increased turbidity during project placement.The cumulative environmental impacts of doing this repeatedly on the same beach while conducting projects from Maine to Texas is unknown. But, we should be concerned. ” —Robert S. Young, PhD, Director, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Professor, Coastal Geology, Western Carolina University

North Topsail Beach Debacle No Way for NC to Manage its Coast; Op Ed By Robert Young

Topsail beach erosion, North Carolina. ©Photo courtesy of: “Sand Wars” Award-Winning Filmmaker Denis Delestrac. ©2013


Is North Topsail Beach the most poorly managed beach community in the country? If not, it certainly seems to be taking a good shot at it. I have watched in dismay as the town has struggled to preserve a small stretch of oceanfront property at all costs. In doing so, officials have destroyed their beach and created significant access issues along more than a half-mile stretch of shoreline. Perhaps even more disconcerting is that this damage has been done with the permission of the N.C. Division of Coastal Management and the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission…

Read Full Article, News Observer

Rebuilding the Coastline, But at What Cost?

Aerial pictures of Mantoloking, New Jersey’s coast, after superstorm Sandy devastated the area. Photo courtesy of: © Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines (PSDS) / WCU


Nearly seven months after Hurricane Sandy decimated the northeastern coastline, destroying houses and infrastructure and dumping 11 billion gallons of untreated and partially treated sewage into rivers, bays, canals and even some streets, coastal communities have been racing against the clock to prepare for Memorial Day.

“My fear is that the environmental damage from Hurricane Sandy is going to be long-term and will result more from our response than from the storm itself,” said Robert S. Young, head of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University…

Read Full Article, The New York Times

The Benefits Of Inlets Opened During Coastal Storms

Hurricane Irene Opened New Inlets on Hatteras Island. Photograph courtesy of: Rob Young and Andy Coburn, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Western Carolina University

Open letter from the community of coastal scientists regarding the benefits of inlets opened during coastal storms,

Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines (PSDS) / WCU

Inlets are a critical part of natural, coastal processes. Storm-formed island breaches are, in fact, an important aspect of long-term barrier island maintenance. These naturally occurring inlets are often temporary, but while open they transport sand from the nearshore zone into the back-barrier, adding width to the island. Inlets, and their associated sand shoals and flood tidal delta platforms build land and wetlands. This is visible in numerous locations up and down the east coast. The widest portions of the barrier islands are frequently those areas with old inlet locations. This is certainly true for Fire Island, Westhampton Dunes, Assateague Island and significant portions of the North Carolina Outer Banks among many others.

Carefully managing storm-formed inlets is a critical adaptive strategy for preserving barrier islands in response to long-term climate change. Islands that are narrow and sand-poor on the backside are more likely to fragment and “fall apart” in response to rising sea level and future storms. Islands with an inlet formed sand platform on the backside can migrate back, and up onto the flood tidal delta sands, shoals, and marshes. In effect, storm-formed inlets are like beach nourishment projects for the estuarine side of the island, and they can add significant wetland acreage to the back of the island (along with all the values those wetlands provide).

Carefully managing storm-formed inlets is a critical adaptive strategy for preserving barrier islands in response to long-term climate change.

In light of this, inlets should be allowed to remain open wherever possible. Doing so reduces the long-term vulnerability of the barrier island system. Inlets should only be closed in cases where there is a clear need for barrier island continuity (e.g., a critical transportation corridor) or where the inlet is causing immediate and demonstrable harm.

Recently, the North Carolina Department of Transportation elected to allow an inlet that opened during Hurricane Irene to remain open in acknowledgement of these benefits and the likelihood of future breaches. The area is currently proposed to be spanned by a 2-mile long, elevated highway.

Increased storm vulnerability for back barrier water bodies and infrastructure should not simply be assumed, but proven and measured. Any cost benefit analysis for closing the inlet must take into account the benefits that will be provided by increased island width, decreased island vulnerability, and the growth of estuarine wetlands (and the services they provide).

Closing inlets in natural areas, parks, and wilderness areas should require a very, very high burden of proof that the inlet is causing harm. In short, closing storm-formed inlets may seem like the logical response for those managing barrier island shorelines. But doing so ignores the significant benefits these inlets provide and will likely increase the vulnerability of the island and mainland over the long term.

Robert (Rob) S. Young, PhD, PG, Director, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines
Western Carolina University

Please email for relevant references an updated list of signatories:

David M. Bush, PhD, PG, University of West Georgia
Andrew Coburn, Associate Director, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines
Andrew Cooper, PhD, University of Ulster
D. Reide Corbett, PhD, East Carolina University
M. Scott Harris, PhD, College of Charleston
Miles Hayes, PhD, Research Planning, Inc
Duncan Heron, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Duke University
Chester W. Jackson, PhD, Georgia Southern University
Joseph Kelley, PhD, University of Maine
David Mallinson, PhD, East Carolina University
William J. Neal, PhD, Grand Valley State University
Randall W. Parkinson, PhD, PG, RW Parkinson Inc.
Katie McDowell Peek, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines
Leonard Pietrafesa, PhD, North Carolina State University Professor Emeritus
Orrin H. Pilkey, PhD, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus, Duke University
Antonio B. Rodriguez, PhD, University of North Carolina
Stanley Riggs, PhD, PG, Professor Emeritus, East Carolina University
Matthew Stutz, PhD, Meredith College
Arthur Trembanis, PhD, University of Delaware
J.P. Walsh, PhD, East Carolina University
Harold R. Wanless, PhD, University of Miami
John F. Wehmiller, PhD, Professor Emeritus, University of Delaware

The views expressed in this letter should not be interpreted to reflect the views or official endorsement of the institutions employing the signatories.

To Save a Beach, They May Ruin It

okaloosa county white sand beach
White sand beach, Okaloosa County, Florida. Photo source: ©© faungg

By Robert S. Young, PhD, Director Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines

Florida led the nation in establishing detailed criteria for ensuring that only high-quality sand is placed on Florida beaches during construction of beach nourishment projects.

While the Sand Rule (Florida Administrative Code 62B-41.007j) explicitly indicates that the goal is to “protect the environmental functions of Florida’s beaches,” it has also served to protect the economic interests of coastal communities dependent upon the high quality and aesthetic beauty of those beaches.

Using Florida as an example, North Carolina established similar, but more stringent, criteria for beach nourishment projects on our valuable beaches.

Now it seems the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) would like to weaken these sand quality standards or even bypass them altogether. Why would a state that places such a high value on the quality of its beaches do this? It might have something to do with two recent instances in which administrative law judges have recommended that permits for beach nourishment projects be rescinded due to sand-quality issues and violations of the Sand Rule.

The most recent case involves a proposed beach nourishment project for Okaloosa Island.

The tourism website for the Emerald Coast describes the beaches like this: “Florida’s Emerald Coast offers 24 miles of pristine white-sand beaches. … This sand, made up of pure Appalachian quartz, remains remarkably cool even in the heat of summer, and gives the waters here their trademark emerald-green color by reflecting sunlight back up through the surf.”

I agree.

I bring my two young boys to visit these beaches because they have the highest quality and most stunningly beautiful sand I have ever seen. And, through my job, I have visited many beaches all over the world.

okaloosa island
Okaloosa island, Florida. Photo source: ©© Scott

Okaloosa County applied for, and was granted, a permit to pump sand onto 2.8 miles of pure “sugar sand” beach on Okaloosa Island. We know exactly what this “fill sand” will look like, because a nearby beach was covered with this exact same material. The sand is not of Emerald Coast quality. It is far darker, has large shell shards throughout, and is not composed of the pure Appalachian quartz sand advertised by local tourism officials.

It will completely change the Okaloosa Island beach.

Many property owners on Okaloosa Island expressed grave concerns over the project and how it will impact their community. The entire Northwest Florida legislative delegation is so concerned that it passed a resolution urging abandonment of the project out of concern for the economic impacts that will come from “exposing visitors to a downgraded beach-going experience.”

Ultimately, Okaloosa property owners filed suit, arguing the project would degrade their beach. In September, an administrative law judge agreed and issued a recommended order indicating the permit should be rescinded because the sand is clearly not beach compatible. He held that the proposed fill violates the Sand Rule in that it does not “maintain the general character and functionality of the material occurring on the beach and in the adjacent dune and coastal system,” as the Rule stipulates. He recognized the fill material would completely change the character of that beach because it is darker and shell-laden.

I have a dog in this hunt. I served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs. Yet, all of those who relish the high quality and beauty of Florida beaches celebrated this ruling. Sadly, the celebration was short-lived. On Dec. 29, the secretary of FDEP overruled the judge and ordered the permit be issued. In doing so he ignored the Sand Rule’s unequivocal requirement that beach not contain material coarser than the native beach and ignored the spirit of the rule requiring fill material maintain the “general character” of the native beach (color, shell content).

In my opinion, he gave license to Okaloosa County to kill the goose that laid the golden egg — the “sugar sand” beach. One wonders why the county would want to do this?

The beach on Okaloosa Island is already wide, with a formidable dune in most locations. There is a lot of money to be made selling beach nourishment projects, and some folks seem to think that if you have a chance to pump some sand, well, you just ought to.

Some have argued that FDEP is simply trying to streamline burdensome regulations; but, this is very short-sighted. The quality of Florida beaches matters.

The Sand Rule must be preserved and enforced to protect the coastal economy and the environment. It is a rare two-fer, and a no brainer.

Photo source: ©© Davew Wilson

A Fiscal Analysis of Shifting Inlets and Terminal Groins in North Carolina


By Rob Young Director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University

Amid all the other issues the legislature is likely to consider this session, terminal groins, shore-perpendicular structures built at inlets in attempt to slow erosion, might not catch the attention of most taxpayers. State law has banned these structures for more than two decades.

But the debate about terminal groins is worth keeping an eye on, whether you live in western North Carolina or in a coastal community, because it could cost you and our state a pretty penny.

A new study by Andrew Coburn of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University suggests that the benefits of groins in protecting beach homes from erosion are unlikely to outweigh the costs.

Coburn’s report shows that using taxpayer funds to support the value of the relatively small number of threatened properties simply will not return enough tax dollars to make public funding worthwhile.

Of course, in a private community like Figure Eight Island, residents there may elect to cover the costs of building a terminal groin to protect their neighbors’ investments out of their own pockets. This would be an altruistic gesture, but it would still be a bad investment for those who chose to live back from the beach.

And make no mistake: groins are a bad investment. Their initial cost will run into the millions of dollars and annual maintenance can top $2 million. A state-funded study completed last year demonstrated that property down the beach from the groin gets no clear benefits. Nor could the study guarantee that towns with groins will save money in their ongoing battle to protect investment property. All the terminal groins examined in the study still required massive beach re-nourishment.

These beach re-nourishment projects typically cost millions of dollars and must be repeated every few years. Beach communities often ask the legislature to help pay those costs with state dollars. SO, managing the shoreline around a privately built groin could continue to cost taxpayers money.

The bottom line is that, while it may hold the tip of an island in place, a terminal groin will do so for the benefit of only a very small number of property owners at the expense of other private property owners and/or taxpayers.

A wiser course would be to allow the free market to set property values for oceanfront homes that are located in chronic erosion areas. Constantly asking taxpayers (or neighbors) to protect a small number of poorly located homes through beach re-nourishment, sand bags and now terminal groins simply supports an artificially high value for those homes that does not reflect the risk involved in building in a very dangerous place.

Many oceanfront property owners feel that the entire community (or the entire state for that matter) should pay to maintain a beach in front of their investments because “everyone uses the beach”. But, from a scientific perspective, it is not coastal erosion that has removed or narrowed the beach. The beach has narrowed because there is a building in the way of its natural, landward retreat. If there were no buildings, the beach would still be there. So, erosion doesn’t remove beaches, poorly located infrastructure removes beaches.

Please don’t think that I am suggesting that we move all homes 10 miles away from the sea. I am not even suggesting that we get rid of oceanfront property. I am simply suggesting that oceanfront investment property located in chronic erosion areas and near inlets produces constant headaches for taxpayers.

Sometimes, we all make a bad investment decision. Those individuals who purchased property in areas experiencing constant erosion and storm damage made a bad investment decision. I owned plenty of US Airways stock when they went bankrupt. I lost my shirt. I never expected my neighbors to bail me out.

The same is true with oceanfront investment property. We can all feel sympathy for those individuals whose property is threatened, but taxpayers have no responsibility to protect those particular investments. Nor should our public beaches, which are owned by all of us, after all, be compromised to protect a small number of property owners. Doing so only makes things worse, and more expensive in the long run.

So, if the state legislature decides to reverse state law and allow terminal groins along the North Carolina coast there should be no public funding available to aid in their construction or maintenance. And, private property owners who may then be asked to pay to protect their neighbor’s homes should think twice.

Original Study by Andrew S. Coburn, PSDS Rob Young, in NewsObserver