Washington, DC -- Approximately 25 percent of homes and other structures within 500 feet of the U.S. coastline and the shorelines of the Great Lakes will fall victim to the effects of erosion within the next 60 years, according to a study released today by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The study was prepared for FEMA by The Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.
"This report, Evaluation of Erosion Hazards, provides for the first time a comprehensive assessment of coastal erosion and its impact on people and property along our nation's ocean and Great Lakes shorelines," FEMA Director James Lee Witt said. "The findings are sobering. If coastal development continues unabated and if sea levels rise as some scientists are predicting, the impact will be even worse."
Especially hard hit will be areas along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines, which are expected to account for 60 percent of nationwide losses. Costs to U.S. homeowners will average more than a half billion dollars per year, and additional development in high erosion areas will lead to higher losses, according to the report. Highly protected areas of large East Coast cities will not be adversely affected.
"As Americans visit their favorite beaches this July Fourth holiday, they should be aware of the erosion risks facing coastal homes and communities," William Merrell, president of the Heinz Center, said. "Given the rates at which some areas of the U.S. shoreline are eroding due to high intensity storms and coastal flooding, some of the homes and properties that vacationers will enjoy this summer may not be there much longer."
The study came about as a result of the ongoing debate over how best to manage coastal erosion and whether or not, or how, to use federal programs such as the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to address the problem. The federal flood insurance program currently covers erosion damage that occurs in connection with floods, but does not specifically take into account erosion in setting flood insurance rates in coastal areas. Nor does it cover damage caused by gradual erosion.
In an effort to help settle some of the issues, Congress, in 1994, asked FEMA to submit a report evaluating the economic impact of erosion on coastal communities and the NFIP, which is operated by the Federal Insurance Administration, a division of FEMA.
"This report clearly lays out the hard choices facing the Congress and this nation," Witt said. "It is now time to renew the public dialogue about how we can lower the risks to life and proper...