Oceanfront homeowners in Tillamook County seeking an exception to a statewide planning law that prevents shoreline protection (seawalls, rip rap, etc.) for homes built after 1977, spent Veteran’s Day weekend destroying and removing their only line of defense between their homes and the ocean. The homeowners, concerned with the occasional high water during extreme tides and storm events applied for a Goal 18 exception earlier this year with the County. While the county decision is being appealed homeowners in the area, as if in a game of “chicken” with state policy, brought in the stump grinders, chippers and earth movers in the meantime and removed nearly every last tree. They have destroyed the foredune structure and flattened the landscape between the homes and the ocean shore further putting themselves in harm’s way.

Property owners have removed their only natural barrier to the rising seas. Photo on left by Chris Berrie. Photo on right by Rob Russo.

Under Oregon law, Tillamook County’s decision to approve an exception to Goal 18 and change local land use law to allow riprap on the dune is currently “effective” but not yet “acknowledged” (i.e., determined to be consistent with the required state land use laws). If a local government’s decision is overturned on appeal, any goal exception or plan amendment approved by the decision will fail to gain acknowledgement. This means any construction, such as the activities conducted by the applicants in this case, made pursuant to the overturned decision cannot be retained. In other words, such development may have to be removed and the area restored to comply with state law.

aerial view of oceanfront homes

An aerial view of Pine Beach before property owners in the area 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 are actually removing these natural barriers in an interest to develop rock armoring.

The trees  anchored within the foredune were akin to guards acting as a line  of natural defense between the ocean, the shoreline and the homes. These homes had some of the best natural defense on the Oregon coast and despite their relatively poor elevation, there was a lot of natural buffering potential within this landscape. Furthermore, it was a key opportunity for embellishing a natural barrier over the rock wall that the homeowners would like to build here. Nearly all of that has been destroyed now, it’s a clear act of defiance of state policy  that protects beaches and dunes for everyone, the homeowners have destroyed nearly all of the vital vegetation on the dune.

Preemptive seawall construction at Pine Beach. Photo: Chris Berrie

What compels one to cut down the forest between one’s home and the ocean, ocean views? Knowing what we know about climate change, shoreline erosion, storm activity and high water, it’s baffling, downright laughable, that one would choose to eliminate their only natural protection from these processes that threaten static oceanfront development. Moreover, these homeowners were already concerned about erosion, likely spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence land use and engineer rock walls – so cutting down their last line of natural defense was clearly an egregious action. In a country where in some places these natural barriers are so revered that it would even be unlawful to walk across them in the wrong place, it’s shocking that here in Oregon, you can completely unearth and destroy these natural barriers.

Surfrider Foundation, Oregon Shores and Oregon Coast Alliance are all working on this issue. To learn more, contact oregon@surfrider.org or reach out to our Surfrider Three Capes Chapter!