The effectiveness of the emergency rules of 1998, as implemented during the erosion event in Neskowin Oregon, 1999 Public Deposited


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Abstract or Summary
  • Neskowin, Oregon is a small village tucked against the north side of Cascade Head in the southern end of the Nestucca littoral cell in Tillamook County. It is a quiet place of narrow streets lined with old beach shacks and new mansions. Proposal Rock divides the old and new: to the north is the old town and to the south is the newer section. In summer, the town is full of vacationing residents while in winter the town is virtually deserted. Therefore, few residents were present to view the 30+ foot swells that rolled across the beaches in February and March of 1999. Not many saw the creek overflow as the wave bores tumbled across the main bridge dumping huge stumps and other debris in the Neskowin State Wayside. Returning on Memorial Day 1999, summer residents were confronted with a changed beach. A flat beach backed by boulders brought in from quarries had replaced the rolling dunes. The changes occurred suddenly in the winter of 1999, between January 1 and March 30 when the last of the dunes disappeared and the waves threatened the ocean front homes. The storms took the sand and the contractors replaced it with rock. The events of winter 1999 in Neskowin are not new to the state of Oregon, though they were unusually severe. Oregon has policies and rules in place to address the inevitable threat to oceanfront property. However, not until 1998 did the state formally address coastal erosion emergencies. Before 1998, the state provided emergency authorization to protect homes from erosion but there existed no formal process. El Nino 1997-98 motivated the State to formulate policies that would formalize the emergency authorization processes thereby insuring protection of the State's interest in coastal development. The storms of February and March 1999 offered the first test of these procedures in an emergency. The Neskowin erosion event provides an opportunity to judge the effectiveness of the new emergency rules. Understanding the events of Neskowin in 1999 provide a forum for discussing the entire Oregon coast. Neskowin reflects the issues and problems repeated throughout the state. Oregon's coast is dynamic and has the potential for major erosion events. In order to preserve the beaches for summer residents and visitors, the State must actively manage shore protection structures. By working with residents in winter, the State protects the public trust and the interest of non-coastal property owners. Oregonians have a unique relationship to their beaches; they are part of the family and act as an open playground. Armoring the coast undermines the right to wander the beach, gather agates and camp. The armoring alters the ability of the beach to respond to storms, and to move and retreat as water levels change. However, homes built on dunes and bluffs need protection. Managing the coast is about balancing the public good with private rights while recognizing the inevitability of coastal hazards. Viewing the erosion event at Neskowin and the subsequent management response as a microcosm for Oregon allows a broader understanding into the state of the coast and is therefore immediately relevant and important Shore protection structures are a controversial subject on the Oregon coast. The dispute-over the structures is essentially about the conflict between private property rights and the public's right to an unobstructed beach. The private property owners feel that they have a legitimate interest in protecting against loss of property from wave attack and erosion. There is also a sense in the private property community that the beach fronting their homes is essentially owned by them. This is a misperception leading to conflict with public beach advocates. Those that oppose shore protection structures have, typically, three main arguments. The first argument is that the structures limit access to the beach from the upland as well as lateral access along the beach in periods of high tide. The second argument is that the public owns the beach and private property owners do not have the right to place hard structures on the beach limiting the aesthetic quality of the beach. A last argument involves the uncertainty of sea level rise. If the sea level were to rise, this may result in a complete loss of beach with waves at all tidal levels reaching the back of the beach fronted with structures. The State of Oregon has tried to reach a compromise with the two views through its coastal management program and more specifically with the emergency rules. The ability of the State to protect private property while still protecting the public trust on the shore is a delicate balancing act. The emergency situation at Neskowin is illustrative of the implementation problems associated with protecting the public's right to an unobstructed beach while still offering property owners the opportunity to protect their homes. The purpose of this research is two-fold: to evaluate the success of the new emergency procedures promulgated in 1998 and to characterize the erosion event that 6 precipitated the emergency during January, February and March 1999. These two purposes support each other and provide a holistic understanding of how emergencies arise and how effective state procedures are in meeting the challenges of extreme events. In order to facilitate understanding, an overview of Oregon's shore protection policies will proceed the analysis of the new emergency rules. Neskowin will act as a case study to see how well the emergency rules worked.
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