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Case Study: Regulations and Development Standards

Pennsylvania Bluff Setback Program

Introduction:

Pennsylvania's coastal line on the Great Lakes consists of bluffs that are receding. The Pennsylvania Bluff Recession and Setback Act (BRSA) was passed in 1980 to prevent damages from this coastal hazard. The act requires new residential, commercial and industrial structures to be outside Bluff Recession Hazard Areas (BRHA)-areas designated as hazardous because of active bluff recession. The act requires a minimum setback distance, determined by estimating the economic life of a structure and multiplying the result by the local bluff recession rate per year (in feet).

Analysis:

The glaciers that shaped the Great Lakes are also responsible for the sediments that make up the bluffs on Pennsylvania's Lake Erie shoreline. In some cases these bluffs rise 200 feet above the lake. These unconsolidated (loose) glacial sediments include sand, gravel and clay - all very susceptible to erosion. Waves undercut the bluffs causing slumping which can be accelerated by groundwater seepage and surface water runoff. Pennsylvania's bluffs are receding at a rate of approximately one foot per year.

The Bluff Recession and Setback Act (BRSA) was passed in 1980 to regulate the location of new buildings and improvement to existing buildings located in bluff recession hazard areas. Eight coastal municipalities with designated active bluff recession areas were required to enact local zoning ordinances that place restrictions on development in these areas. The State of Pennsylvania developed a model ordinance for municipalities to follow and provides financial and technical assistance for local administration and enforcement of the BRSA.

The BRSA seeks to protect property owners and their investment decisions, prevent damage to utility lines, and eliminate hazards created by the collapse of structures into Lake Erie.

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