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Decision Handed Down in Tillamook Rip Rap Case

The State Land Use Board of Appeals announced a mixed decision on September 30 for a heavily contested case of private oceanfront homes verses public beaches.  Last November, Surfrider Foundation, Oregon Shores, Oregon Coast Alliance and the state's Dept. of Land Conservation and Development appealed a decision by Tillamook County allowing a major shoreline armoring project to take place through an “exception” to statewide land use law (Goal 18). The Oregon Coast Alliance and the State's Dept. of Land Conservation and Development also appealed the decision.  The case has become notorious, not only because the county's action threatens our ability to protect our public beaches through land use regulation, but because the landowners plunged ahead and riprapped the shore, removing trees and drastically altering the natural foredune, while the decision was still under appeal - more on that here.

aerial view of oceanfront homes An aerial view of Pine Beach before homeowners destroyed the natural barrier. Notice the amount of trees and natural barriers between the homes and the ocean shore. In contrast, note the armored shoreline and rip rap to the north. Homeowners in this case actually destroyed these natural barriers in an interest to develop rock armoring.

The Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) announced its decision Sept. 30 and the results are mixed.  We could declare victory, as LUBA determined that the county's decision wasn't justified and "remanded" the case to the county (meaning that the county's approval of the riprap permit was flawed and would have to be reconsidered). As of now, the landowners who riprapped the shore do not have a valid permit for this. What is more, LUBA rejected most of the county's arguments for allowing the "exception." We can say that we won a battle.

However, LUBA ruled in favor of the county and the landowners on a key point: Despite rejecting all but one of the county's "catch-all" grounds for the exception, LUBA held that it would be possible to grant an exception due to "unique circumstances," those circumstances being erosion created by the existence of two century-old jetties and El Nino/La Nina events.

The decision was remanded because the county applied it to vacant properties in the stretch that was armored, not just those with threatened structures. Given that the riprap revetment encloses all 15 properties that were part of the original proposal, and the landowners integrated the vacant properties in their argument for an exception, it will be interesting to see how Tillamook County attempts to redress this issue.

Nevertheless, a great deal of mischief could be done in the name of "unique circumstances," since there are specific causes of local erosion up and down the coast.  This could undermine the purpose of Goal 18, which protects beaches and dunes. We are currently weighing our legal options, while waiting to see whether the "respondents" (the landowners) and the county choose to appeal the remand, and assuming that the county will take up the issue again on reconsideration and seek to find a way to justify riprapping vacant lots that should not be eligible for shoreline armoring at all.

More information on the appeal and our growing concern with the proliferation of shoreline armoring and rip rap can be found here.