Living Shorelines

A natural alternative to bulkheads and seawalls, living shorelines provide an environment where critical aquatic plants and animals can live and thrive.

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Corps’ new nationwide permits fall short More »

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released updates to 52 permits in its “nationwide permit” program, intended to authorize projects with minor environmental impacts to land, wetlands, and waterways. Too often, this streamlined permitting process is applied to projects that should be looked at more carefully on a case-by-case basis and require in-depth study and analysis.

Unfortunately, the majority of the 2017 permits maintain their sweeping exceptions that allow major projects like oil and gas development, pipeline and transmission-line construction, and coal mining without proper environmental analysis.

“Allowing the continued use of nationwide permits comes at a high cost to our wetlands and marshes. It’s extremely disappointing that the Corps continues to rely so extensively on these one-size-fits-all, expedited permits,” said SELC Senior Attorney Bill Sapp.

Along with partners from across the Southeast and nationwide, SELC weighed in by filing comments on several of the permits, urging the Corps to take proactive steps to strengthen permit conditions and close regulatory loopholes.

SELC has long challenged the Corps’ issuance of Nationwide Permit 13, which allows for the construction of bulkheads, seawalls, and other hardening structures that harm coastal ecosystems and can lead to accelerated erosion. In filed comments and in federal court, SELC has pushed for the Corps to retire NWP 13 and to issue a new nationwide permit covering living shorelines projects.

While the Corps disappointingly reissued NWP 13 with minor changes, the agency has now issued the first-ever permit for living shorelines, NWP 54. By making the permitting process faster and easier for property owners and contractors to construct living shorelines, the hope is that more property owners will choose living shorelines projects to stem erosion while maintaining important natural shoreline features, instead of environmentally-damaging bulkheads.

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Striving to Maintain and Conserve Our Coastlines Naturally

Alabama’s Gulf Coast and Georgia’s Atlantic Coast are treasured cultural, recreational, and economic resources, cherished by residents and visitors alike. With beaches, saltwater marshlands, freshwater wetlands, estuaries, and forests, both states support tourism industries that generate tens of millions of dollars each year.

Unfortunately, our coastlines in both states are threatened by sprawling, poorly planned growth, compounded by the failure of local, state, and federal agencies to enforce existing law. Some developers and builders have found ways to exploit this weakness in regulatory enforcement—and they do so at the expense of Alabama and Georgia coastal resources.

As sea level rises and beaches and marshlands move inland, bulkheads and seawalls are being built under the erroneous assumption that they stop coastal erosion. In fact, these harmful and temporary structures contribute to loss of shorelines and destroy their valuable ecosystems, yet they now cover a significant percentage of the precious coastlines in Georgia and Alabama. Mobile Bay has been particularly hard hit, with nearly half of its shoreline walled off behind bulkheads.

Controlling Erosion the Natural Way

SELC and our coastal partners advocate for long-term protection of the coasts by creating living shorelines and educating the public on the necessity of using these long-term, natural alternatives to bulkheads and seawalls.

Created by planting marsh grass and constructing reef breakwaters, living shorelines help to enhance the shoreline ecosystem and decrease erosion by reducing wave energy, accommodating for sea level rise and managing sand movement.

This natural approach for erosion control lasts for decades and provides a critical aquatic habitat for many species, including shrimp, oysters, and other marine life essential to water and shore health.

Implementing Living Shorelines Projects

SELC works alongside conservation groups, government agencies, and research institutions to provide legal advice, take action when coastal health is threatened by the construction of seawalls or bulkheads, and simplify the permitting process to build a living shoreline.

Living shorelines conferences have been held in Georgia and Alabama, and workshops have been conducted to establish a proper definition of a living shoreline and determine how biologists and ecologists can best work with coastal engineers to develop the most effective living shorelines projects.

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