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Thousands Of Shoreline Homes In Danger

Thousands of homes along the East, Gulf and Pacific coasts and the Great Lakes are in danger of being washed away because of soil erosion.

CBS News Correspondent Maureen Maher reports a new government study warns that up to a quarter of the buildings close to those shores are in jeopardy.

Every year, hundreds of miles of the U.S. coastline are washed away and with it, more than a thousand homes. And the government study indicates it's only going to get worse.

According to the five-year study, over the next 60 years, eroding coastline will wipe out one out of every four homes within 500 feet of the shore, at a cost of $530 million a year.

"The results are far more alarming than we thought," says James Lee Witt, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

But they're not surprising to anyone who lives along the Gulf Coast in Galveston, Texas—which loses more than six feet of shoreline every year, mostly due to pounding weather from tropical storms like Francis in 1998.

Residents like Eddie Olhers say it's plain to see. "We lost in some areas 60- to 70 foot."

Galveston is still fighting to recover, spending millions to rebuild its beaches with man-made sythentically reinforced dunes.

But who pays for that recovery is part of the problem. While here in Texas, the state has spent nearly $2 million to reinforce this three-and-a-half mile stretch along the Gulf, just down the beach there are some who aren't being allowed to spend even a dime to save their own homes because of worries about erosion.

Take Jane Ebrom, for example. She is locked in a legal battle with the state of Texas, which won't allow her to rebuild a protective bulkhead around her Galveston beach home that was washed out. The state says too much of the beach around the home has washed away.

"I would not mind spending the money to put a new bulkhead, I would much rather do that, than move the house or lose it," says Ebrom.

But who pays for the more than half billion dollars in annual property losses resulting from shoreline soil erosion?

It's a slippery slope the government says leads to the pocket of all taxpayers."Because if it's a disaster response recovery effort, then we're all paying for it," says Witt.

But with a building boom along the nation's 9,800 miles of coastline, people are still willing to take the chance.

"If you're a water person, you simply can't get close enough to the water," says Ebrom.

And it's a risk that a little over half the U.S. population appears to be able to live with.