Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ocean Loop Drive

I chose our lodgings in Homer before doing my pre-trip geology homework. It was only fitting, but highly ironic, that I found I had chosen the center of the local seawall controversy.

The wall is hideous, but as usual, the folks living above it don't have to look at it. And given Alaska's propensity to largesse, they may not have to pay for it either. A fairly small number of property owners get the views and the perception of being one with the environment, but the kharma is all wrong. There is nothing sustainable about this place. What is natural about this place is the eroding bluff, not the static view of the bay from the rampart of an engineered fortress.

The beach is eroding beneath the wall - the underlying till was exposed on the beach in front of the section of the wall that failed this past January. This wall will only get bigger. The wall encourages more investment in bluff top property, not less, so the likelihood of retreating becomes less. I'm all for property rights: the right to buy lemons and accept the consequences of investment choices. The issue of whether you can muck up a public resource or incur public expense to protect property value is not about property rights but something else.

In this case, I think the area of concern is sufficiently small that maybe the expedient solution may a government bailout -- not to build a bigger wall but to buy out the property owners and pull out the wall. Call it Munson Point Park. I can't believe doing this won't be cheaper (and better public policy) than even a decade or two of seawall maintenance and replacement.

There were some interesting twists. Each end of the wall is marked by barrier beaches - a small accretional feature at the updrift Munson Point end and the base of the much larger Homer spit at the downdrift end. The tide range is 20-30 feet, so there are wonderful sand and gravel bars and flats exposed at low tide, sprinkled with some big boulders. As we sometimes see on Puget Sound, high points on the gravel beach along the seawall correspond to the landward end of large tranverse sand bars that extend far offshore. And that may shift down shore fairly quickly - changing the locus of seawall damage from one year to the next.

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