Pushing Against the Waves: Coastal Neskowin prepares for climate change
Bill Busch drives his car through the small Oregon coast town of Neskowin. He stops in the driveway of a shingle-sided house with large picture windows, some 30 feet from the beach. There’s a portable basketball pole that’s toppled over at the driveway’s far end. We soon find out why. Busch, fellow Neskowin residents Alex Sifford and Guy Sievert, and I pile out of the car into a very wet, very windy, winter afternoon.
Following a small path along the house, we pass knee-high, American beach grass peeking out of the foredunes all around us. Then we arrive at Neskowin’s beach. Not far off, the Pacific Ocean’s rough winter waves are pummeling the narrow shoreline. To my left is a heap of stones. To my right is open seashore.
“Is this where it ends?” I ask, pointing toward the rocks.
“Yeah,” shouts Sifford above the wind.
I’m looking at an intentionally stacked assemblage of large, dark-brown rocks that form a seven-foot barrier in front of the house. Called riprap, the rocks are part of an engineering effort known as “armoring” or “hardening,” intended to protect Neskowin’s shoreside homes from the ravages of the Pacific Ocean.
Here in mostly low-lying Neskowin— just barely above sea level—riprap of various heights stretch the length of the town from where we’re standing to the bluffs overlooking Proposal Rock, a “haystack” formation that juts out of the beach some two miles to the south. This armoring—installed at homeowners’ expense—is the first line of defense Neskowin has against some very real threats from the sea.
Over a mere three decades, Neskowin has lost roughly 2 meters of its beach per year to the Pacific. Over the recorded period from 1965 to 2000, this resulted in some 70 meters of erosion. Much of this loss has been due to a series of observed trends that includes growing wave heights, powerful El Niños, and surprisingly massive winter storms. It’s not yet known whether these trends will persist into the future. Still, researchers conclude Oregon’s coast can expect more erosion, collapsing hillsides, and increased flooding, with places like Neskowin acting as “hotspots” for these changes. Nonetheless, Neskowin’s residents—Busch, Sifford, and Sievert among them—aren’t standing idly by.