StormSmart Communities - Maintaining Seawalls and Other Structures

Find information on this topic from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) StormSmart Coasts Program.

Prior to coastal management policies and regulations, protecting coastal shorelines often meant structural projects like seawalls, revetments, and groins. With the improved understanding of natural shoreline function, there is a growing acceptance that structural solutions frequently cause more problems than they solve, and they are often not allowed under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act. Structural protective measures often:

  • Are expensive
  • Are not permissible under local and state regulations
  • Cause erosion to beaches and dunes, leading to a loss of recreational and tourism resources and diminished storm damage protection
  • Aren’t permanent, in fact require costly maintenance to ensure that they continue to provide protection
  • Divert stormwater and waves onto other properties
  • Adversely affect other properties by starving beaches of needed sediment sources
  • Create a false sense of security
  • Disturb the land and disrupt natural water flows

In 2006, the Coastal Hazards Commission recognized that, generally, existing publicly owned shoreline stabilization structures that need to be maintained have not been maintained and initiated an inventory of publicly owned seawalls, revetments, groins, jetties, and other structures. A series of reports produced from 2006 to 2009 for the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) and the Department of Conservation and Recreation provide ratings for the condition of these structures and estimates for repair or reconstruction costs. These ratings and estimates were determined by civil engineers who surveyed the structures.  Please note: DCR initiated an update to the inventory in 2013 and released new data and reports to communities in 2015.

New structural protection should only be considered as a last resort, knowing that it may not be permissible, will be an ongoing expense, and may increase overall damage to land, buildings, and other structures within the natural system. Whenever structural protection is pursued, including reconstruction of failed structures, improvements to the design to reduce adverse impacts, hybrid technology (such as combinations of low-profile rock, cobble berms, and vegetative planting, or combinations of marsh plantings and coconut fiber rolls) should be considered as a means of reducing the negative impacts of the structure.  See StormSmart Properties Fact Sheet #7: Repair and Reconstruction of Seawalls and Revetments for details on design improvements for reducing impacts, improving structure longevity and minimizing maintenance costs.

CZM’s StormSmart Properties website provides detailed information on a range of measures that can effectively reduce erosion and storm damage while minimizing impacts to shoreline systems. This information is intended to help property owners work with consultants and other design professionals to select the best option or combination of options for their circumstances.

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