Coastal Barrier Resources Act

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Coastal Barrier Resources Act

In the 1970s and 1980s, Congress recognized that certain actions and programs of the Federal Government have historically subsidized and encouraged development on coastal barriers, resulting in the loss of natural resources; threats to human life, health, and property; and the expenditure of millions of tax dollars each year. To remove the Federal incentive to develop these areas, the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) of 1982 designated relatively undeveloped coastal barriers along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts as part of the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS), and made these areas ineligible for most new Federal expenditures and financial assistance.

The Coastal Barrier Improvement Act (CBIA) of 1990 reauthorized the CBRA; expanded the CBRS to include undeveloped coastal barriers along the Florida Keys, Great Lakes, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands; and added a new category of coastal barriers to the CBRS called "otherwise protected areas" (OPAs). OPAs are undeveloped coastal barriers that are within the boundaries of an area established under Federal, State, or local law, or held by a qualified organization, primarily for wildlife refuge, sanctuary, recreational, or natural resource conservation purposes.

The law encourages the conservation of hurricane prone, biologically rich coastal barriers by restricting Federal expenditures that encourage development, such as Federal flood insurance. Areas within the CBRS can be developed provided that private developers or other non-Federal parties bear the full cost. Between 1982 and 2010, CBRA has saved over $1 billion in Federal dollars and will save millions more in the future.

 

Taxpayer Savings

In the past, certain actions and programs of the Federal government had the effect of encouraging development of fragile, high-risk, and ecologically sensitive coastal barriers. The Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) of 1982 and its amendments limit Federal expenditures and financial assistance which have the effect of encouraging development on designated coastal barriers. The result is a savings in Federal dollars, the protection of human lives, and conservation of natural resources. CBRA and its amendments do not prevent or regulate development, they only remove the Federal incentive for development on designated coastal barriers. Therefore, individuals who choose to live and invest in these hazard-prone areas bear the full cost of development and rebuilding instead of passing it on to American taxpayers. An economic study conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2002 estimated that by 2010, CBRA will have saved American taxpayers approximately $1.3 billion by restricting Federal spending for roads, wastewater systems, potable water supply, and disaster relief.

The savings estimated in this study are conservative for the following reasons: the Federal programs Congress directed the Service to examine comprise but a fraction of the Federal programs, policies, and funding sources that promote, protect, and rebuild development along our coasts; the methods the Service used to estimate Stafford Act savings assume the cost per developed acre in the entire disaster area is constant, but this is not generally the case; costs for infrastructure did not consider the geology of coastal barriers and how much more expensive it is to build in these places because they are unstable and flood prone; the Service assumed no construction occurred on wetlands, which has probably happened in some areas; the Service only considered initial, on-site construction costs, but did not assess the costs of operating and maintaining infrastructure or connecting development to existing facilities.

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act, Harnessing the Power of Market Forces to Conserve America's Coasts and Save Taxpayers' Money.

 


 

John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) established the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) in 1982.  The CBRS consists of the undeveloped coastal barriers and other areas located on the coasts of the United States that are identified and depicted on a series of maps entitled “John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System.” These maps are controlling and indicate which lands are affected by the CBRA. The maps are maintained by the Department of the Interior through the Fish and Wildlife Service. Aside from three minor exceptions, only Congress has the authority to add or delete land from the CBRS and create new units. These exceptions include: (1) voluntary additions to the CBRS by property owners; (2) additions of excess Federal property to the CBRS; and (3) the CBRA 5-year review requirement that solely considers changes that have occurred to System units by natural forces such as erosion and accretion.

The CBRS was renamed the “John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System” by P.L. 106-167 in 1999 to honor the late Senator Chafee. CBRA has been amended several times to replace certain maps with new maps containing modified boundaries.

Types of CBRS Units

The CBRS contains two types of units, System units and Otherwise Protected Areas (OPAs).  OPAs are denoted with a “P” at the end of the unit number (e.g., FL-64P, P10P).

System units are generally comprised of private lands that were relatively undeveloped at the time of their designation within the CBRS.  The boundaries of these units are generally intended to follow geomorphic, development, or cultural features.  Most new Federal expenditures and financial assistance, including Federal flood insurance, are prohibited within System units.  The CBRS currently includes 584 System units encompassing approximately 1.3 million acres of land and associated aquatic habitat. 

OPAs are generally comprised of lands held by a qualified organization primarily for wildlife refuge, sanctuary, recreational, or natural resource conservation purposes.  The boundaries of these units are generally intended to coincide with the boundaries of conservation or recreation areas such as state parks and national wildlife refuges.  The only Federal spending prohibition within OPAs is the prohibition on Federal flood insurance.  The CBRS currently includes 272 OPAs encompassing approximately 1.9 million acres of land and associated aquatic habitat.

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What is an "Undeveloped Coastal Barrier"?

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) of 1982 defines an "undeveloped coastal barrier" as a depositional geologic feature that is subject to wave, tidal and wind energies; and protects landward aquatic habitats from direct wave attack. CBRA further defines a coastal barrier as all associated aquatic habitats, including the adjacent wetlands, marshes, estuaries, inlets and nearshore waters, but only if such features and associated habitats contain few man-made structures and these structures, and people's activity associated with them, do not significantly impede geomorphic and ecological processes.

Section 2 of the Coastal Barrier Reauthorization Act of 2000 specifies that, at the time of the inclusion of a System unit within the System, a coastal barrier area is considered undeveloped if (1) the density of development is less than one structure per five acres of land above mean high tide; and (2) there is not a full suite of existing infrastructure consisting of a road with a reinforced road bed, wastewater disposal system, electric service, and fresh water supply to each lot or building site in the area.

CBRA sought to include relatively undeveloped coastal barriers within the CBRS (i.e., those areas containing few man-made structures).  Before CBRA was enacted in 1982, the Secretary of the Interior was directed by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (P.L. 97-35) to map undeveloped coastal barriers for Congressional consideration.  The definitions and delineation criteria that guided the Department of the Interior’s (Department) mapping efforts were published on August 16, 1982, in the Federal Register (Vol. 47, No. 158).  The Department considered the density of structures and availability of infrastructure on the ground to evaluate development status.  To be considered developed, the density of development on each coastal barrier area must have been more than one structure per five acres of land above mean high tide prior to its designation within the CBRS.  In addition, a coastal barrier area was considered developed, even when there was less than one structure per five acres of land above mean high tide, if there was a full complement of infrastructure on the ground before designation.  A full complement of infrastructure includes all of the following components for each lot or building site in the area:  a road with a reinforced road bed, a wastewater disposal system, electric service, and a fresh water supply.  The intent of the infrastructure criterion was to exclude areas where there was intensive private capitalization prior to its inclusion within the CBRS demonstrating a substantial on-the-ground commitment to complete the development.  These criteria were later codified by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-514) for consideration by the Secretary of the Interior when making recommendations to Congress regarding additions to or deletions from the CBRS.

In applying the density criterion, the Service generally considers the entire CBRS unit, not individual subdivisions.  In cases where there are discrete segments of a coastal barrier unit (i.e., areas separated by inlets or by intervening areas that are otherwise protected or clearly developed), the density criterion is applied to each discrete segment.

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