The coast is a very dynamic environment and coastal shorelines—especially beaches, dunes, and banks—change constantly in response to wind, waves, tides, and other factors such as seasonal variation, sea level rise, and human alterations to the shoreline system. The movement of sediment along the coast and the loss and gain of shoreline—erosion and accretion—are continuous and interrelated processes. In Massachusetts, eroding coastal landforms are the primary sources of sand that created and continue to feed our beaches and dunes. While erosion is necessary and natural, it also causes damage to coastal property and related infrastructure and can have adverse effects on beaches and other habitat.
The Massachusetts Coastal Erosion Commission was established in 2014 as part of the FY 2014 Budget Bill. This Commission was charged with investigating and documenting the levels and impacts of coastal erosion in the Commonwealth and developing strategies and recommendations to reduce, minimize, or eliminate the magnitude and frequency of coastal erosion and its adverse impacts on property, infrastructure, public safety, and beaches and dunes.
Specifically, the Commission was asked to evaluate erosion levels since 1978 and assess the resulting financial damage to property, infrastructure, and beach and dune resources—and to also estimate the likely cost of damages over the next 10 years under current conditions, regulations, and laws. Based on those assessments, the Commission was to evaluate all existing rules, regulations, and laws governing the materials, methodologies, and means that may be used to guard against and reduce or eliminate the impacts of coastal erosion. The Commission was also charged with examining any possible changes, expansions, reductions, and laws that would improve the ability of municipalities and private property owners to guard against or reduce or eliminate the impacts of coastal erosion without undue adverse environmental impacts. For the complete charge to the Commission, see Section 200 of the FY 2014 Budget Bill.
On December 3, 2015, the Massachusetts Coastal Erosion Commission released its final report, which provides eight overarching strategies that seek to:
- Advance science, data, and information for better decision making;
- Enhance the legal, regulatory, and policy framework; and.
- Enhance shoreline management practices and approaches, technical and financial assistance to communities, and outreach and communication efforts.
The Commission was established by the Massachusetts Legislature to investigate and document levels and impacts of coastal erosion in the Commonwealth and develop strategies and recommendations to reduce, minimize, or eliminate the magnitude and frequency of coastal erosion and its adverse impacts on property, infrastructure, public safety, and beaches and dunes. On behalf of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), CZM chaired and staffed the Commission. Since it began its work in March 2014, the Commission held eight meetings, reviewed the work and findings of similar state- and national-level commissions on coastal shoreline and floodplain management, convened five regional public workshops, created three Working Groups, and held five regional public hearings and a 90-day public period on its draft report. The final report presents the work, findings, and recommendations of the Commission. Volume 1 contains the body of the report and Volume 2 contains the Working Group technical reports (Erosion Impacts, Legal and Regulatory, and Science and Technology).
Coastal Erosion Commission Representatives:
- Dan Sieger, Assistant Secretary for the Environment, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
- Bruce Carlisle, Director of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management
- Marty Suuberg, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection
- Carol Sanchez, Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (former)
- Patricia Hughes, Town of Brewster Selectwoman
- Lisa O’Donnell, Town of Essex Selectwoman
- Doug Packer, Town of Newbury Conservation Commission
- Anne Herbst, Town of Hull Conservation Commission
- Jack Clarke, Mass Audubon
- E. Robert Thieler, U.S. Geological Survey
- Ron Barrett, Plum Island Taxpayers Association
- Paul Schrader, Citizen, Town of Sandwich
Commission Process (2014-2015)
The first meeting of the Coastal Erosion Commission was held on March 27, 2014, in Boston. The initial work of the Commission included the review of its statutory charge, establishment and tasking of three Working Groups, a review of related efforts, and plans for public workshops to seek public and stakeholder input. The second meeting of the Commission was held on July 31, 2014, and included a review of the input and information received at the five public workshops, updates from the Working Groups, and a discussion of next steps. On October 16, 2014, at its third meeting, the Commission reviewed and discussed the Working Group reports and began initial deliberations on preliminary recommendations and the development of its draft report. At its fourth meeting on November 6, 2014, the Commission reviewed, discussed, and revised a complete set of recommended strategies and actions and approved an outline for its report. At its December 5, 2014, meeting, the Commission reviewed a complete, preliminary draft and discussed next steps for finalizing the draft report and seeking public review and comment. The Commission released its draft report on January 7, 2015, for a 90-day public review and comment period. The Commission held five regional public hearings to receive comments and input on the draft report and the written comment period closed on April 7, 2015. Thirty-seven written comments were submitted and at the public hearings, 45 oral comments were provided. At its sixth meeting on June 2, 2015, the Commission met to review and discuss the input received during the public review period. The Commission met on July 23, 2015, for the seventh time to further discuss the comments and issues on the draft report identified for further review at the June 2 meeting and made plans to finalize the report. On September 29, 2015, at its eighth and final meeting, the Commission finalized revisions to the draft report.
In May and June of 2014, the Commission held five regional workshops to introduce the Commission and its charge, present information related to coastal erosion and shoreline management approaches, seek public and stakeholder feedback, and communicate the Commission’s process and next steps.
The workshop agenda included: presentations on the basics of coastal processes and shoreline management approaches and on Coastal Erosion Commission background, context, and next steps and group discussion on such topics as science and mapping needs, best management practices, and local assistance. A report summarizing the workshops was developed by the facilitation team at the Consensus Building Institute.
As part of the workshops, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) presented a series of maps and summary charts for the Commission that compiled detailed information along 50-meter segments of more than 1,000 miles of exposed open-water facing shoreline. Using data on shoreline change, presence of coastal structures, wetland resource areas, and land use, the shoreline characterization and change analyses profiles contain information for each of the 57 coastal communities assessed, organized by five regions:
- North Shore Region file size 5MB
- Boston Harbor Region file size 2MB
- South Shore Region file size 3MB
- Cape Cod and Islands Region file size 5MB
- South Coastal Region file size 5MB
The Coastal Erosion Commission established three Working Groups to provide assistance in completing its charge: Erosion Impacts, Legal and Regulatory, and Science and Technology. Information and content from the three Working Group reports provided the substantive foundation for Commission deliberations and for the development of the final report. The three Working Group reports are contained in Volume 2 of the final report. Technical peer review of the Working Group reports was provided by a group of scientists and coastal geology experts during the public review period.
Erosion Impacts Working Group
The Erosion Impacts Working Group was given the following three assignments:
- Appraise the financial damage to property, infrastructure, and beach and dune resources that has been sustained from 1978 to the present by inventorying available data sources and information.
- Develop a reasonable estimate of the value of damages likely to occur in the next 10 years by utilizing best advice on erosion estimates in the next 10 years from the Science and Technology Working Group and developing and applying a method to estimate impacts.
- Provide preliminary suggestions as to potential recommendations or strategies related to continued or new efforts and methods to characterize and assess financial impacts of damage to property and infrastructure located on coastal banks, beaches, and dunes.
Legal and Regulatory Working Group
The Legal and Regulatory Working Group was asked to address the following three tasks:
- Summarize current rules, regulations, and laws governing/related to coastal erosion.
- Provide input and feedback after an evaluation of the current rules, regulations, and laws governing the materials, methodologies, and means for coastal erosion protection and how they are applied.
- Provide preliminary suggestions as to potential recommendations or strategies related to possible changes, expansions, reductions, and laws that would improve the ability of municipalities and private property owners to guard against or reduce or eliminate the impacts of coastal erosion without undue adverse environmental impacts.
Science and Technology Working Group
The Science and Technology Working Group was assigned the four following tasks to assist the Commission:
- Characterize the Commonwealth’s shoreline by providing an overview of coastal geology and coastal processes; characterizing the landforms, habitats, and developed lands at the immediate, exposed shoreline; and describing ongoing efforts to inventory and track coastal shoreline engineered structures.
- Develop a reasonable assessment of coastal erosion by describing and quantifying, where possible, past erosion trends and estimates of shoreline change and providing the best advice on how to estimate erosion in the next 10 years.
- Evaluate the methodologies and means that may be used to guard against and reduce or eliminate the impacts of coastal erosion and develop a summary of shoreline management practices, effectiveness, and adverse impacts.
- Provide preliminary suggestions as to potential recommendations or strategies related to the science and technical aspects of reducing impacts of coastal erosion.
For additional information on this topic, see:
- Massachusetts Coastal Hazards Commission - Convened in 2006, the Coastal Hazards Commission was charged with reviewing existing coastal hazards practices and policies, identifying data and information gaps, and drafting recommendations for administrative, regulatory, and statutory changes. The Commission produced a final report in 2007 that includes recommendations to improve the management of risk from coastal hazards in Massachusetts.
- StormSmart Coasts - Launched in 2008, CZM’s StormSmart Coasts program assists communities and people working and living on the coast by providing information, strategies, and tools to help address challenges arising from erosion, flooding, storms, sea level rise, and other climate change impacts. The program also works to promote effective management of coastal landforms, such as beaches and dunes.
- Massachusetts Shoreline Change Project - Part of the StormSmart Coasts program, the Shoreline Change Project provides scientific data and information on shoreline trends, including long-term (~150-year) and short-term (~30-year) erosion and accretion rates.