Public Access: In Depth
There are a variety of projects state coastal management programs undertake to ensure the public has adequate access to the coast. Their activities include:
Besides the physical construction of access points, state and local governments often undertake planning efforts to ensure sufficient and suitable public access opportunities are provided. This encompasses a broad range of activities such as:
- Inventorying existing access sites;
- Identifying current and projected demand for access and prioritizing access needs;
- Identifying what types of access are needed where and the most appropriate location for construction of particular types of access sites; and
- Identifying potential funding sources that will support the acquisition of properties on which new access can be provided, as well the construction of any physical infrastructure needed.
States can also address public access from various legal or regulatory standpoints by:
- Identifying historic access points such as traditional right of ways and reclaiming them for public use;
- Ensuring that existing access is not lost when new developments are proposed or if access will be lost, requiring that developers mitigate the loss by providing a new or enhanced opportunity elsewhere; and
- Establishing legal protections from liability for homeowners who provide access over their property to waterfront.
State and local governments use education and outreach projects to ensure that the public is aware of existing access opportunities and their access rights. Projects include:
- Developing printed guides or websites that show access sites for different types of uses and their amenities;
- Developing brochures or other literature for the public and shorefront property owners on public access rights; and
- Developing and installing signs that help guide the public to access sites.
In 1986, Congress amended the Coastal Zone Management Act to create the Coastal Resource Improvement Program, which was designed to allow coastal states to use a portion of their Section 306 funds for “on the ground” projects that would enhance public access opportunities, including both small-scale construction and land acquisition. From 2000-2005, at least 20 of the 34 eligible coastal states funded one or more construction or acquisition projects using Section 306A funds. Approximately $20 million in federal dollars has been spent (in almost all cases matched with an equal or greater amount of state, local, or private dollars) during this time period to support more than 400 projects around the U.S.
States make it easier to access coastal areas through physical improvements. Alabama has constructed parking areas and added restroom facilities to beach areas, while Georgia has constructed public boat ramps. The City of Aberdeen, WA has constructed an 800-foot waterfront boardwalk for the public, and the state of Wisconsin has improved nature trails along the Menomonee River.
To protect private property and the environment upon which coastal communities depend for their livelihoods, states such as Michigan and Texas have built or repaired walkways over and around private property and sensitive dunes. This allows people to enjoy the shore without trespassing or destroying dunes and other natural features that protect the beach and the properties behind it.
State and local governments also use coastal management funds to revitalize declining ports, harbors and waterfronts. The City of Sandusky, OH, repaired and redeveloped a downtown fishing pier to provide public access as part of a waterfront revitalization project. Projects like this open up waterfronts to retail businesses and spark public interest in these forgotten coastal sites, which, in turn, raises tourism dollars and other revenue for the community.
Although the price of land in coastal areas is high and ever-increasing, coastal states still manage to acquire land or public access easements to create new public access points. This is usually accomplished by seeking funds from multiple grant sources and/or partnering with local governments and others to leverage funding. States have successfully acquired coastal lands to enhance public access with the use of funds from the Coastal Resources Improvement Program, Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program, and National and Estuarine Research Reserve System to provide an increasing coastal population with access to the coast.