U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Changes to Coastal Barrier Resources System

Seals on the beach at Nantucket National Wildlife Refuge, MA. The refuge is part of the Coastal Barrier Resources System. (Image credit: Amanda Boyd/USFWS)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has made available for public review and comment its proposed revisions to the boundaries of the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. The proposed revisions for 148 units (112 existing units and 36 proposed new units) are based on a rigorous set of objective mapping criteria and are designed to fix technical mapping errors and add qualifying areas to the CBRS.

The proposed changes remove about 270 structures (mostly residential) that were mistakenly included within the CBRS due to technical mapping errors, and also add about 200 structures located in highly vulnerable undeveloped coastal barrier areas with flood risk exposure. More than half of those structures proposed for addition are on public lands or parks; the remainder are on private lands. There is, however, a grandfathering provision to allow structures on the ground at the time of inclusion to maintain federally-backed flood insurance until such time that the structure is substantially improved or damaged.

Established by the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) of 1982, the CBRS consists of geographic units that are depicted on a set of maps maintained by FWS. Coastal barriers serve as important habitat for fish and wildlife and a natural buffer for vulnerable mainland communities. Not only are coastal barrier ecosystems home to vital natural resources such as coastal wetlands, diverse wildlife, and flyways for migratory birds, they also protect public safety and the substantial investments along mainland coastal communities. Undeveloped coastal barriers and wetlands absorb the brunt of the destructive forces of hurricanes and storm surges, reducing wave energy and inland flooding and providing resistance to the flow of water. A recent study shows that coastal wetlands avoided $625 million in direct flood damages during Hurricane Sandy.

Nationally, the CBRS contains 862 geographic units that encompass 3.5 million acres of relatively undeveloped areas along the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico coasts. The CBRA limits most new federal funding for development within these storm-prone areas, saving American taxpayers millions of dollars in spending for roads, wastewater and potable water systems, disaster assistance, and subsidized flood insurance. The CBRA imposes no restrictions on development conducted with private, state, or local funds.

The proposed revisions to the boundaries can be viewed and information on how to submit public comments and participate in virtual public meetings to be held via webcast and teleconference can be found at the FWS website.

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