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Report: States Need to Streamline Licensing for Living Shorelines

Living shorelines such as this oyster reef barrier in North Carolina protect against erosion while providing habitats for wildlife. (U.S. Marine Corps)
Living shorelines such as this oyster reef barrier in North Carolina protect against erosion while providing habitats for wildlife. (U.S. Marine Corps)
May 14, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- As rising sea levels from climate change threaten waterfront communities and wildlife, a new report from the National Wildlife Federation finds that the development of living shorelines along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts varies dramatically from state to state.

Bruce Stein, chief scientist with the federation, says living shorelines such as oyster reefs and rock spills differ from traditional shoreline protection such as bulkheads because they guard against erosion while also supporting wildlife habitats, which hard structures don't.

But Stein says the report found that the permitting process in many coastal states often prohibits development of these natural barriers.

"In the State of Texas, for example, to do a living shoreline, you have to do a very expensive land survey," he points out. "That's not required for a seawall or a bulkhead. And so, we're now working with the state regulatory agency to say, hey, how can we encourage these things to be more on par?"

The report shows that states, including Virginia, Maryland and New York, encourage development of natural infrastructure. However, the rate of living shoreline installation is still low relative to the number of hardened protections along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Virginia is traditionally known to have a slow permitting process for living shorelines, the report shows.

But that's beginning to change, according to Karen Forget, executive director of Lynnhaven River NOW in Virginia Beach, which aims to restore Virginia Beach coastline.

She says 20 years ago policymakers didn't know about the benefits of the natural barriers, but over the years training and education has helped and more legislation is supporting the process.

"In 2011, the General Assembly passed legislation stating that living shorelines were the preferred mechanism for shoreline management in Virginia, and that was a big step forward for us," she states.

Forget says this year's General Assembly passed another law promoting living shorelines. A landowner who wants to build a hard structure now has to provide evidence of why that's chosen over a natural one before receiving a permit.

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA