The ongoing armoring of the nation’s coastlines with seawalls and bulkheads causes the inevitable destruction of miles of coastal wetlands. Armoring increases the rate of shoreline erosion and blocks the long term migration of wetlands inland, a process that will be necessary for coastal wetlands to survive sea level rise. Coastal armoring also reduces the habitat available to coastal species, and blocks access to the upper reaches of the beach for sea turtles and other species that depend on the beach for nesting. And yet, despite these well established and significant environmental harms, the United States Army Corps of Engineers currently authorizes the construction of bulkheads and seawalls up to five-hundred feet in length through a general permit—Nationwide Permit 13—that does not even require property owners to notify the United States Army Corps of Engineers before beginning construction. Under the Clean Water Act, such general permits are only authorized for activities that have “minimal adverse environmental effects.” This Article explains why Nationwide Permit 13 is unlawful under the Clean Water Act, and how Nationwide Permit 13 acts to encourage coastal development and undermine the adoption of less environmentally damaging erosion control measures, such as living shorelines. In addition, this Article argues that the upcoming reissuance of Nationwide Permit 13 in 2017 presents a crucial opportunity for the United States Army Corps of Engineers to change its approach to coastal armoring permits and assume an important role in administering a federal program of coastal climate change adaptation.
46 Envtl. L. 537 (2016)