The Atlantic coastline of the United States is experiencing sea level rise at a rate higher than the global average. Antiquated property laws and land use tools are unable to adequately assist state and local governments in managing coastal regions, in light of this threat. Rolling easements—prohibiting hard shoreline armoring and requiring the movement or abandonment of property once it becomes inundated by the sea—would allow for the natural inland migration of invaluable coastal resources such as beaches and wetlands. Further, enacting rolling easement polices would be a proactive step towards providing ocean-front property owners with notice of the necessarily finite nature of their property rights. In the long-term, such a policy would prevent future costs from emergency response needs, legal battles, and the loss of natural and economic benefits from coastal resources. Because the public already has a cognizable legal right in the coastline from the public trust doctrine, enacting a rolling easement policy to protect that legal right would not constitute a regulatory taking of private property. Sea level rise poses a particularly immediate threat to North Carolina and Virginia, therefore, this Note suggests that both states could benefit from enacting a rolling easement policy.
Resurrecting the Public Trust Doctrine: How Rolling Easements Can Adapt to Sea Level Rise and Preserve the United States Coastline,
B.C. Envtl. Aff. L. Rev.