Virginia Coastal Policy Center


Sam Gross


This paper focuses on a frequently discussed but rarely implemented solution to sea level rise: “managed retreat” away from at-risk and overdeveloped coastal areas. The paper begins by examining the threat posed by sea level rise through the lens of two contrasting municipalities: Miami, Florida and Nags Head, North Carolina. It then outlines the concept of managed retreat as well as the controversies surrounding this approach. Specifically, it examines the widespread voter hostility to condemnation efforts, the deterrent effect of inevitable legal challenges, and the financial burden of such efforts on cash-strapped municipalities.

After analyzing these hurdles, the paper assesses government buyback programs as an alternative method of procuring at-risk coastal properties to facilitate managed retreat. After concluding that buyback programs are an insufficient substitute to eminent domain, the paper ultimately proposes that local authorities use life estates as a tool to mitigate the obstacles standing in the way of local governments doing what is best for their communities.

This abstract has been adapted from the author's introduction.

Document Type

Sea Level Rise and Recurrent Flooding

Publication Date

Fall 2019