RIPRAP EVENTUALLY RIPS OFF THE PUBLIC BEACH – Wallace Kaufman
No one wants a home to fall off an ocean bluff, but in almost all cases, defending the home destroys the public beach. When a local or state government grants permission for hardened defenses like bulkheads, groins, and rip rap, other citizens pay with valuable beach access. And very often these citizens pay with their taxes.
Learn from several thousand years of history—armoring an ocean beach destroys the beach. The idea that placing rip rap (boulders and large stones) along Lincoln County beaches will be good for the beaches suggests that the natural physics of waves, tides, and sand movement have suddenly changed. Putting riprap on and along the bottom of bluffs and cliffs is a short term benefit to property owners and an almost immediate rip off of public beaches.
The idea that Lincoln City beaches are still suffering damage from sand removed 50 years ago is not fact. The shoreline dynamics have long since adjusted. Blaming beach “erosion” distorts science. Without hardened defenses like rip rap, beaches have a natural dynamic. Storms and heavy waves pull sand out to sea. When water is deep enough, the sand settles out. In calmer weather sand migrates toward shore and winds and gentle waves restore beaches. Some of the materials that maintain beaches come from the soft sedimentary bluffs like those in Lincoln City.
Hardening the shoreline at the base of the bluffs and cliffs damages beaches in two ways. First, it locks up materials that naturally nourish beaches. Second, it reflects wave energy back onto the beaches, intensifying the ocean’s sand grab. A third impact is that when one property or section is armored erosion is almost certain to increase on adjacent properties. Then those owners want to put down rip rap.
Hauling in riprap is a very expensive measure, but owners of million dollar homes may have the money to do it. Since they will do this at the expense of the publicly owned beaches, one might ask if they are willing to pay for sand replenishment. But let’s note, sand replenishment is not a practical solution since it inevitably disappears, often within a year.
Oregon has made long term commitments to keeping its beaches natural. That was forward thinking and followed the science. Hardening the shoreline now would abandon science for the sake of a few property owners. It would also, in essence, donate public property, the beach, to those landowners.
To say that all homeowners with ocean front property should be fully insured for their losses may sound hard-hearted. There may be other ways to help them save all or part of their homes. Public officials should turn their attention to those possibilities rather than approving measures to rob other Oregonians of their beaches.
(Wallace Kaufman, an award winning science writer and a mediator, is the principal author with Dr. Orrin Pilkey of The Beaches Are Moving, a natural and social history of America’s beaches.)