EPA Climate Ready Estuaries Rolling Easements Primer

Developed through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Climate Ready Estuaries program, this primer identifies approaches for inland migration of beaches and wetlands as sea level rises due to climate change. The report describes how these measures can be used by state and local governments in cases where traditional protective measures such as the construction of dikes, seawalls, and other structures may prove economically or environmentally unsustainable.

The primer describes more than a dozen legal approaches for ensuring that wetlands and beaches can migrate inland, as people remove buildings, roads, and other structures as land becomes submerged. Collectively, these approaches are known as rolling easements. This primer differentiates opportunities for legislatures, regulators, land trusts, developers, and individual landowners, and considers different shoreline environments (e.g. wetlands, barrier islands) and different objectives (e.g. public access, wetland migration).

The primer summarizes potential rolling easement tools and rationales, and aims to help communities consider the full range of options the consequences of sea-level rise. Rolling easements can preserve beaches and eroding shores, maintain public shore access in line with the public trust doctrine, facilitate the landward relocation of roads and infrastructure, and allow inland migration of wetlands and barrier islands.

Legal approaches to creating rolling easements are reviewed. These approaches include zoning, local regulations, and land interests such as covenants. Table 3 presents a Summary of Recorded Rolling Easement Options, including a description of each tool, its responsible party, its objective, and caveats. The primer also explains how rolling easements can be combined with coastal policies such as setbacks and cluster development. The primer discusses those entities with the legal authority to institute rolling easements, including local governments and state agencies.

Advantages and disadvantages of rolling easements are described, as are situations when rolling easements are preferable to other retreat mechanisms or shore protection. Further information on managing rolling easements is provided.

Publication Date: June 2011

Author or Affiliated User:

  • James G. Titus

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Resource Types:

  • Legal Analysis
  • Policy analysis/recommendations


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