Relocation assistance can take the form of grant or low-interest loans to help with the cost of relocating a structure threatened by erosion. While initially relocating a property can seem like a very costly undertaking, in the long-run, it can often be the most economically feasible and environmentally sound alternative. Shoreline protection or beach renourishment projects that attempt to save a building can be costly. In addition, they are usually just temporary solutions that only prolong the life of the structure, but do not halt erosion entirely. They also incur routine maintenance costs and have harmful environmental impacts as discussed in the overview to this section.
Buy-back programs can be implemented to purchase waterfront property that is no longer suitable for development. Waterfront property can include undeveloped lots where a construction set-back line makes any future development impossible. It can also include developed lots where the structure is threatened, significantly damaged, or has been destroyed by erosion and repair or redevelopment is not possible. When implemented in conjunction with set-back lines or managed retreat policies, buy-back programs can help prevent "takings" issues and make other programs more politically acceptable.
Benefits: Back-back programs can be used to compensate landowners for the loss of land usability to avoid a "takings" claim. Relocation assistance programs provides a voluntary incentive to relocate away from high-hazard areas. Both programs can be more cost-effective over the long-run compared to shoreline stabilization projects that have to be continually maintained and may only prolong a structure's life. Both programs also allow for natural shoreline processes to continue.
Drawbacks: Can be very costly, especially for large or multi-story structures and densely developed shorefronts where many structures would need to be moved. Due to high costs, can be difficult to develop political support these types of programs. Also, because the coast is already highly developed in many places, it may be difficult to find undeveloped lot to place the relocated structure.
One of the most famous relocation projects is the relocation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Built in 1870, the historic lighthouse is a well-known feature along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. By the 1980s, the 200 foot tall structure was in danger of being lost to erosion. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s the National Park Service conducted several beach replenishments, installed a series of groins fields, rip-rap and sandbags in an attempt to save the lighthouse. However, the erosion control efforts were not successful in stopping the shoreline's advance. By the late 1980s, the lighthouse stood only 160 feet from the ocean. A 1988 National Academy of Sciences Study and a 1996 study conducted by several researchers at the North Carolina State University found that relocating the lighthouse was the only feasible option. Adding additional groins, sea walls and sand to the beach would be more costly and were only estimated to last 20 or 30 years. Therefore, in 1999 over the course of twenty-three days, the National Park Service gradually moved the lighthouse 2,900 feet inland where it would be protected from shoreline erosion. Although a costly undertaking, the Hatteras project proved that even large structures can be relocated if needed.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was amended in 1987 to allow homeowners to use up to 40 percent of the value of the federal flood insurance on their home for relocation purposes. The federal government would pay a relatively small amount to help move threatened structures out of hazard areas and thus avoid continued future costs to rebuild or repair the structure repeatedly when damaged or destroyed by shoreline erosion. For example, North Carolina successfully relocated 70 structures and demolished 168 buildings with assistance from the program before it was terminated in 1994.
In 1994, the NFIP relocation assistance program was replaced by the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program. The Program provides state and local governments grants for planning and mitigation assistance to minimize the risk of flood damage to properties covered by the NFIP. While relocation projects can still be funded under the new Flood Mitigation Assistance Program, they now have to compete with other planning and mitigation projects, including beach renourishment.