Le Signal, a building that has become a symbol of coastal erosion, is being demolished

The demolition of Le Signal, a 1960s building that has become a symbol of coastal erosion in France, began in early February on the Atlantic coast, where tens of thousands of other homes are threatened by the end of the century. . “Through what happens today”we see “what the rising waters and the erosion of the coastline will project in many other places on the French coast”declared, on February 3, the Minister of Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion, Christophe Béchu, who went to the site for the launch of the demolition.

By 2100, 20% of the coastline and “up to 50,000 homes” are concerned by the phenomenon, he added, while the jaws of a hydraulic shovel began to crunch the building built in 1967 200 meters from the ocean, and now on the side of a dune less than 20 meters from the waves.

An old phenomenon, greatly accelerated by climate change

A natural phenomenon at work for 18,000 years on the Atlantic coast, the retreat of the coastline is characterized by a massive displacement of sediments under the effect of waves, winds and tides. According to scientists from the Observatoire de la côte de Nouvelle-Aquitainethe sandy coastline of the Bay of Biscay could thus retreat by 50 meters, and the rocky coasts of the Basque Country by 27 meters, by 2050.

Climate change, which should cause the next 30 years to rise in water levels similar to that measured over the entire last century, also threatens to accentuate the decline by an additional 20 meters in places, indicates Nicolas Bernon, coastal risk engineer at the Observatory.

Originally, a vast “Grande Motte” project

The building was the only building, completed in 1967, of a vast “Grande Motte” project (named after the Mediterranean seaside resort) of more than a thousand apartments, with a 2×3 lane boulevard along the beach, at one time “where it was necessary to create new towns”says Jean-José Guichet, ex-president of the syndicate of co-owners.

A “human error” that the authorities “don’t assume”believes a former co-owner, bitter and angry, pointing with her hands to the seafront and its villas “flooded in the 1930s”and the Signal area “where we built without ever warning buyers of the risk”.

Exceptional compensation included in a dedicated law

At the end of 2020, after six years of legal and administrative saga, the co-owners obtained compensation up to 70% of the original value of their accommodation. An agreement ratified by a dedicated law, which “will not make case law” to avoid expanding the Barnier fund – dedicated solely to major natural risks – to thousands of owners threatened by dune erosion, experts on the matter report.

Because in the New Aquitaine region, according to the Littoral Public Interest Group (GIP), the main local player in erosion management, up to 6,700 homes and businesses could be swallowed up by the ocean by half. of the century, if nothing is done. For Nicolas Castay, director of this structure financed by the State, the Region and the coastal communities, “The Signal affair was a revelation, a drama to move forward. Local authorities have equipped themselves and equipped themselves with specialists” To fight.

Communities on the front line

Helped until 2027 by a European fund of 38 million euros and, for several of them, by state support, the local authorities in the region have put in place strategies “mixed”ranging from protection “Hard”via riprap and dykes, until the future displacement of the threatened buildings.

According to engineer Nicolas Bernon, “in the long term, it will be necessary to relocate” because the hard works, which “protect in the short term”, intensify the recoil at their extremities and will have to be renewed regularly. The mayors, gathered within the National Association of Coastal Elected Officials, launched Friday “an alert” by asking the state “resources, a dedicated fund and a listening ear” to finance these projects.

The Green Fund to the rescue… for one year

The government, which has set up, via the Green Fund, co-financing on a case-by-case basis for the year 2023 only, is currently carrying out a “consultation” with elected officials, recalled Minister Christophe Béchu. “It takes hundreds of millions of euros to support this type of thing. That we take a few months to ask ourselves what is the best mechanism to collect this sum, that seems rather rational to me”.

In the region, the seaside resort of Lacanau (Gironde), a pioneer in relocating more than a thousand homes, has postponed this project until after 2050, for lack of legal and financial means. It now favors the construction of a dike temporarily securing the seafront.

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