Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is Rebuilding the Coast Doomed to Failure?


"Since Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S. East Coast a year ago, federal, state, and local governments have made an important de facto policy decision without any debate, discussion, or national plan. It is this: We will attempt to hold the nation’s shorelines in place using whatever means possible and whatever the cost. We will do this despite the undisputed scientific fact that sea levels are rising and coastal erosion along these shores will only increase in the future. We will do this even though it will be environmentally damaging and the costs will be extremely high, with never-ending expenditures. "

In Yale Environment 360, coastal geology professor Rob Young writes:

"Yes, there has been much talk about building "better" and "smarter." There have been plans for increasing "resilience," which is a conveniently vague term. President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force released its long-awaited report in August. There were many good recommendations for increasing post-disaster efficiency and for using better science to understand flood risk. But one sure-fire solution for reducing vulnerability was glaringly absent: The report lacked any suggestion that we should be developing long-term plans for getting infrastructure out of high hazard areas.
Raising buildings is only a solution if you commit to holding the beaches in place forever.

"Yes, there is much talk in the report about elevating structures and roads, and good suggestions about flood-proofing urban services like the power grid. Many resort communities in New Jersey have taken the call to elevate homes seriously. But elevating buildings above the hazard is only a temporary solution to coastal vulnerability. It’s like standing in a river that is rising due to a flood. You can roll up your pants or hike up your skirt, but if the water keeps rising you will get wet. Better to just step out of the water. In the year since Sandy, our response has been to roll up our pants, but sea level will continue to rise and our shorelines will continue to erode at an ever-increasing rate.

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"The Army Corps of Engineers has so overhyped the benefits of beach nourishment that every coastal community in America is standing in line to sign up. The corps is examining 50-year projects for the entire shoreline of
Why not start thinking now about how to relocate vulnerable infrastructure?
Walton County, Florida, and for the small community of Edisto, South Carolina, among many others. When the federal government endorses spending billions to pump sand on the beaches of New York and New Jersey in an effort to provide the next 5 or 6 years of protection, how can we deny all the other communities that will also want big, expensive beaches? But should U.S. taxpayers be funding a $23 million project in a very small oceanfront community like Edisto? And what about the next coastal community, and the next?

"What’s needed is a new approach that acknowledges the science of coastal hazards and sea level rise. Managed retreat is not an abandonment of the coast. It is a gradual change in the footprint of vulnerable communities based on the realities of coastal hazards and rising sea levels. Storms are an opportunity to implement that change. But if the federal government is guaranteeing to keep beaches in front of your property, why would you think about moving? "

Read the full post: Why Rebuilding The Coast Is Doomed to Failure

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