Regulatory Takings and Property Rights Confront Sea Level Rise: How Do They Roll?
John R. Nolon
Pace University School of Law
Widener Law Review, Vol. 21, 2012
Under the Beach and Shore Preservation Act, the State of Florida is authorized to conduct extraordinarily expensive beach renourishment projects to restore damaged coastal properties. The statute advances the State’s interest in repairing the damage to the coastal ecosystem and economy caused by hurricanes, high winds, and storm surges. The effect of a renourishment project conducted under the statute is to fix the legal boundary of the littoral property owner at an Erosion Control Line. Plaintiffs in Walton County v. Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. claimed that the statute took their common law property rights to their boundary, which would, but for the Act, move gradually landward or seaward, maintaining contact with the water. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed and the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection to determine whether the state court reinterpreted Florida’s common law as a pretext for upholding the statute against the plaintiffs’ taking claim and, if so, whether that reinterpretation constituted a “judicial taking.” The Court ultimately decided that the Florida court’s interpretation was correct and that there was no regulatory taking. A majority of the Court could not agree as to whether a state court’s interpretation of state common law could constitute a “judicial taking.”
This article discusses greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, sea level rise, and the ferocity of coastal storms associated with climate change. It explores the tension between these movements in nature and the policy of the State of Florida to fix property boundaries, which under common law would move landward as sea level rises. The property rights and title to land of littoral landowners are described and the effect of the Beach and Shore Preservation Act on them discussed. The article contrasts the Florida coastal policy regarding beach and shore protection with the policies and programs of federal, state, and local governments that use other approaches such as accommodating rolling easements, prohibiting shoreline armoring, requiring removal of buildings, purchasing development rights or the land itself, and imposing moratoria on rebuilding after storm events. These may be less expensive and more realistic approaches to long-term coastal erosion and avulsive events and the inevitability of sea level rise as the climate warms and worsens. The article concludes with a recommendation that the framework for federal, state, and local cooperation in coastal management be revisited and strengthened so that the critical resources and knowledge are brought to bear on this critical issue. It suggests that strengthening those ties, rather than radically restructuring the relationship between state and federal courts, is a more productive method of meeting the needs of a changing society.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 41
Date posted: April 3, 2012 ; Last revised: March 23, 2014