John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) established the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) in 1982.  The CBRS consists of the undeveloped coastal barriers coastal barriers
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and other areas located on the coasts of the United States that are identified and depicted on a series of maps entitled “John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System.” These maps are controlling and indicate which lands are affected by the CBRA. The maps are maintained by the Department of the Interior through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Aside from three minor exceptions, only Congress has the authority to add or delete land from the CBRS and create new units. These exceptions include: (1) voluntary additions to the CBRS by property owners; (2) additions of excess federal property to the CBRS; and (3) the CBRA 5-year review requirement that solely considers changes that have occurred to System units by natural forces such as erosion and accretion.

The CBRS was renamed the “John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System” by Pub. L. 106-167 in 1999 to honor the late Senator Chafee. The CBRA has been amended several times to replace certain maps with new maps containing modified boundaries.

Types of CBRS Units

The CBRS contains two types of units, System Units and Otherwise Protected Areas (OPAs).  OPAs are denoted with a “P” at the end of the unit number (e.g., FL-64P, P10P).

System Units contain areas that were relatively undeveloped at the time of their designation within the CBRS. System Units are predominantly comprised of privately owned areas, though they may also contain areas that are held for conservation and/or recreation. The boundaries for areas included within System Units are generally intended to follow geomorphic, development, or cultural features.  Most new Federal expenditures and financial assistance, including Federal flood insurance, are prohibited within System units.  The CBRS currently includes 588 System Units encompassing approximately 1.4 million acres of land and associated aquatic habitat. 

OPAs are predominantly comprised of conservation and/or recreation areas such as national wildlife refuges, state and national parks, local conservation areas, and private conservation areas, though they may also contain private areas that are not held for conservation and/or recreation. The boundaries of these units are generally intended to coincide with the boundaries of conservation or recreation areas such as state parks and national wildlife refuges.  The only Federal spending prohibition within OPAs is the prohibition on Federal flood insurance.  The CBRS currently includes 282 OPAs encompassing approximately 2.1 million acres of land and associated aquatic habitat.

What is an "Undeveloped Coastal Barrier"?

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) of 1982 defines an "undeveloped coastal barrier" as a depositional geologic feature that is subject to wave, tidal and wind energies; and protects landward aquatic habitats from direct wave attack. CBRA further defines a coastal barrier as all associated aquatic habitats, including the adjacent wetlands, marshes, estuaries, inlets and near-shore waters, but only if such features and associated habitats contain few man-made structures and these structures, and people's activity associated with them, do not significantly impede geomorphic and ecological processes.

Section 2 of the Coastal Barrier Reauthorization Act of 2000 specifies that, at the time of the inclusion of a System unit within the System, a coastal barrier area is considered undeveloped if (1) the density of development is less than one structure per five acres of land above mean high tide; and (2) there is not a full suite of existing infrastructure consisting of a road with a reinforced road bed, wastewater disposal system, electric service, and fresh water supply to each lot or building site in the area.

CBRA sought to include relatively undeveloped coastal barriers within the CBRS (i.e., those areas containing few man-made structures).  Before CBRA was enacted in 1982, the Secretary of the Interior was directed by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (Pub. L. 97-35) to map undeveloped coastal barriers for Congressional consideration.  The definitions and delineation criteria that guided the Department of the Interior’s (Department) mapping efforts were published on August 16, 1982, in the Federal Register (Vol. 47, No. 158).  The Department considered the density of structures and availability of infrastructure on the ground to evaluate development status.  To be considered developed, the density of development on each coastal barrier area must have been more than one structure structure
Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish…

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per five acres of land above mean high tide prior to its designation within the CBRS.  In addition, a coastal barrier area was considered developed, even when there was less than one structure per five acres of land above mean high tide, if there was a full complement of infrastructure on the ground before designation.  A full complement of infrastructure includes all of the following components for each lot or building site in the area:  a road with a reinforced road bed, a wastewater disposal system, electric service, and a fresh water supply.  The intent of the infrastructure criterion was to exclude areas where there was intensive private capitalization prior to its inclusion within the CBRS demonstrating a substantial on-the-ground commitment to complete the development.  These criteria were later codified by the Coastal Barrier Resources Reauthorization Act of 2000 (Pub. L. 106-514) for consideration by the Secretary of the Interior when making recommendations to Congress regarding additions to or deletions from the CBRS.

In applying the density criterion, the Service generally considers the entire CBRS unit, not individual subdivisions.  In cases where there are discrete segments of a coastal barrier unit (i.e., areas separated by inlets or by intervening areas that are otherwise protected or clearly developed), the density criterion is applied to each discrete segment.