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Lake Erie Bluff Recession

The Bluff Recession and Setback Act , 32 P.S. §§ 5201-5215, enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1980 and amended in 2011, provides for the regulation of structure setbacks in bluff recession hazard areas throughout the Commonwealth to limit property damage and shoreline erosion recession. Companion regulations in Title 25, Chapter 85 of the Pennsylvania Code were subsequently adopted to authorize a comprehensive and coordinated program to regulate development activities to preserve and restore the natural ecological systems, while preventing continued destruction of property and structures.

Under this program, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is charged with the identification and establishment of bluff recession hazards areas, development of minimum bluff setback distances, and review of municipal setback ordinances and regulations. Detailed information on the study to designate these hazard areas and DEP’s control point monitoring program are provided in the links below. The Bluff Recession and Setback Act delegates enforcement authority to local governments, requiring all Lake Erie municipalities with designated Bluff Recession Hazard Areas to adopt and enforce local ordinances. Pennsylvania’s Coastal Resources Management Program (CRMP) provides annual reimbursements to municipalities for costs incurred to comply with the act.

Links for more information:

Lake Erie Control Point Bluff Erosion StoryMap – This web-based application provides background information on coastal erosion in Pennsylvania and an interactive map showing control point locations, historic measurements, and aerial photography at over 150 sites along Lake Erie. Erosion rates are presented in a series of graphs, followed by a discussion of two case studies, and links for more information.

Bluff Recession Hazard Area Designations and Study

Lake Erie Bluff Recession Control Point Monitoring – Detailed information on CRMP’s long-term erosion monitoring program, including the most recent maps and graphs.

Municipal Reference Document - Compilation of Field Interpretations and Department Guidance for Bluff Recession and Setback Act (redirects to DEP's eLibrary)

Pennsylvania Sea Grant and Penn State Behrend’s Lake Erie Bluff Recession Analysis and Bluff Erosion Potential Index – More information is available from Sea Grant’s website.

Assistance For Bluff Property Owners:

CRMP staff provide technical consultation and outreach services at no cost to Lake Erie shoreline property owners. If you have bluff erosion issues or concerns, please contact Shelby Clark, Coastal Resources Coordinator for Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie Coastal Zone, at 814.217.9634 or by e-mail at

CRMP hosts annual workshops for landowners, realtors, municipal officials, and other individuals operating or living on the shoreline. Topics range from best management practices for property owners, to the effects of high lake levels on shoreline stability, and permitting requirements for shoreline structures. Workshops are free and open to the public.

Links for more information:

Vegetative Best Management Practices: A Manual for Pennsylvania/Lake Erie Bluff Landowners – CRMP collaborated with Mercyhurst College to develop this document. It is accessible for download from Pennsylvania Sea Grant’s website.