The demolition of the "Signal", a building that has become a symbol of the decline of beaches on the Atlantic coast, began on Friday February 3 in Soulac-sur-mer, in Gironde, in the south-west of France, while tens of thousands of Other dwellings are threatened by the end of the century.

"Through what is happening 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 the spot the Minister of the Ecological transition, Christophe Béchu.

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 constructed in 1967 200 meters from the ocean, and now on the side of a dune less than 20 meters from the waves.

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-Aquitaine, the 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.

For Vincent Duprat, 76, one of the 75 co-owners evacuated in 2014 after a series of storms and high tides, present on Friday in front of the site, "these are memories for four generations" which are disappearing, the sea having "resumed its rights".

>> Rising waters: in Quiberville, in Normandy, the challenge of letting the sea in

French Environment Minister Christophe Bechu on a caterpillar as he witnesses the start of demolition of the Signal building.

© Philippe Lopez, AFP

"Human error"

The building was the only completed building of a vast "Grande Motte" project of more than a thousand apartments, with a 2x3 lane boulevard by the beach, at a time "when it was necessary to create cities new", says Jean-José Guichet, former president of the syndicate of co-owners.

A "human error" that the authorities "do not assume", believes Danielle Duprat, 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 the buyers of the risk".

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.

A "one shot agreement" voted in Parliament, which "will not set a precedent" to avoid expanding the "Barnier" fund - dedicated solely to major natural risks - to thousands of owners threatened by dune erosion, according to specialists from the case.

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 the end of the day. 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. The communities are equipped and equipped with specialists" to to struggle against.

>> To read: The Camargue threatened by rising waters, one of the effects of climate change in France

“We will have to relocate”

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 implemented "mixed" strategies, ranging from "hard" protection, via rockfill 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 structures, which "protect in the short term", intensify the decline at their ends and will have to be renewed regularly.

The mayors, gathered within the National Association of Coastal Elected Officials, launched "an alert" on Friday, calling on the State "means, a dedicated fund and a listening ear" to finance these projects.

The government which has set up, via a “green fund”, co-financing on a case-by-case basis for the year 2023 only, is currently conducting a “consultation” with elected officials, recalled 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," said the minister.

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 dyke temporarily securing the seafront.

With AFP

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