Coastal communities in the United States provide vital economic, social and recreational opportunities for millions of Americans. However, decades of population migration have transformed many natural coastal habitats into urban landscapes and intensified the use of finite coastal resources. Between 1970 and 2010, the population of U.S. coastal watersheds has increased by 45 percent to a total of 164 million, or 52 percent of the nation's population. This population increase has resulted in greater vulnerability of coastal communities and environments to natural hazards. The National Sea Grant Law Center provides legal research, outreach, and education to support the development of resilient coastal communities that sustain diverse and vibrant economies, effectively respond to and mitigate hazards, and function within the limits of their ecosystem.
Priority Issue: Working Waterfronts
In 2010, the NSGLC collaborated with the Coastal Enterprises, Inc., Florida Sea Grant, Island Institute, Maine Sea Grant, the National Sea Grant Law Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law, the Urban Harbors Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and Virginia Sea Grant to develop the Sustainable Working Waterfronts Toolkit (www.wateraccessus.com) which was officially launched in March 2013. The NSGLC continues to be actively involved in the National Working Waterfront Network, providing leadership and administrative support in partnership with Maine Sea Grant. The NWWN is a nationwide network of businesses, industry associations, nonprofits, local governments and communities, state and federal agencies, universities, Sea Grant programs, and individuals dedicated to supporting, preserving, and enhancing our nation’s working waterfronts and waterways.
In 2014, the National Sea Grant Law Center, Maine Sea Grant, and NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management received funding through the NOAA Preserve America Initiative to capture and preserve oral histories showcasing working waterfront preservation efforts. Ten working waterfront champions were invited to share the story of their community’s working waterfront initiative. The resulting “Preserving the Working Waterfront” oral history collection includes audio recordings of the full interviews, transcripts of the interviews and audio slideshows highlighting key elements of their stories. For more information on the project and to view the slideshows, please visit the National Working Waterfront Network’s website at: http://www.wateraccessus.com/oralhistory.cfm.
Priority Issue: Coastal Access
In 2007, the National Sea Grant Law Center awarded a grant to Maine Sea Grant and its partners from the Maine Coastal Program, The Center for Law and Innovation of University of Maine School of Law, and Island Institute to conduct research on legal and policy tools for coastal access in Maine and translate these findings into outreach approaches that would enable coastal property owners, public interest entities, and recreational users to locally address their coastal access issues. In 2009, the National Sea Grant Law Center identified the project’s final outreach tool, the Accessing the Maine Coast website, as a potential national model and provided Maine Sea Grant with additional funding to administer a call for proposals from other Sea Grant programs to produce similar websites.
Five states (NJ, VA, MS, AL, HI) have adopted Maine’s model and are now providing information on legal and policy tools for coastal access in their respective states. To learn more about these sites, visit nsglc.olemiss.edu/Coast/Accessing_Coast.html. The NSGLC is currently working with Texas Sea Grant to adapt the site for use in Texas.
Priority Issue: Hurricane Sandy
At the request of New York Sea Grant and NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, the National Sea Grant Law Center conducted research on the effect of Hurricane Sandy on coastal property lines in New York and New Jersey. Hurricanes often result in the sudden and perceptible loss of or addition to land by the action of the water, or “avulsion.” Generally speaking, if land is added to the shore by an avulsive event, shoreline boundaries will remain at the high water mark as it existed before the storm. A landowner who loses land (if the hurricane caused sudden erosion) could seek permission from the state to restore his land to the pre-event boundary line. Two separate memos, available at nsglc.olemiss.edu/advisory, discuss this common law doctrine and its applicability to New York and New Jersey coastal property.