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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Protecting Coastal Communities After Sandy

These photos provided by the U.S. Geological Survey showing Seaside Heights, N.J. before and after Superstorm Sandy. The top photo was taken May 2009 and bottom photo taken November 2012. (Click to enlarge.)

Two weeks after Sandy, the reality is setting in that tens of thousands of homes and apartments in New York and New Jersey will not have power for weeks, maybe months, until they are repaired.

Money for shelters has become an urgent issue for officials and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is requesting 30 billion dollars in federal disaster aid to cover losses – as frustration and anger mount over the slow pace of recovery in the hardest hit areas.

…efforts to protect coastlines from Mother Nature have always been controversial, and in the wake of Sandy, will become more so.

In New Jersey, barrier island residents were allowed back for the first time since the storm – for a few hours – to see what was left of their homes and shops, if anything. One business owner in Seaside Heights called Sandy “a nightmare that doesn’t want to end.”

Meanwhile, some housing projects in the Rockaways got power back, the Long Island railroad returned to nearly normal service and New Jersey announced an end to gas rationing. And in towns along the coast, cleanup continues, including pushing sand back towards the ocean in an attempt to restore a beach washed away by Sandy.

The storm pushed megatons of sand into homes, businesses and streets along barrier islands – and in some cases, across the islands and into the bays behind them. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has pledged that all that sand and everything that sits on it will be put back.

But with sea levels rising and the threat of more super-storms, is that the right move?

Cornelia Dean, a science writer for The New York Times and author of the book “Against the Tide: The Battle For America’s Beaches” says efforts to protect coastlines from Mother Nature have always been controversial, and in the wake of Sandy, will become more so.


  • Cornelia Dean, science writer for The New York Times and author of “Against the Tide.”

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  • Roy-in-Boise

    The mention of Federal funding and public access to saved beaches raises a timely theme which is good to to examine. New Jersey’s answer is a difficult one in that it involves a basic realignment of basic esoteric values more than anything. People need to see the value in a natural beach that folks can stroll too from the resorts and hotels across the street rather than being right on the breakers where only the guests can be.  

  • JeanSC

    Trying to rebuild the status quo ante is the wrong move now – and it was the wrong move 50 years ago, with reference to “The Great Atlantic Storm” of March 5-8, 1962. Many politicial leaders who have to be involved with Sandy either were still sucking their thumbs 50 years ago, or weren’t even thought of. Ian McHarg wrote about this topic in his 1967 book “Design With Nature.” It’s in libraries, if not your own bookshelf. As a nation we must cut our losses by rebuilding out of the flood danger zones as delineated by Nature: inland & uphill. Insurance coverage must become “one-and-done.” If entire neighborhoods wish to relocate as a group, we must make this happen. People must also read FEMA 320 to see that buildings in hurricane zones are also vulnerable to tornadoes which hurricanes often bring, so the construction should include a “safe room.” I also advocate the building envelope be built to take an EF3 tornado; it’s feasible with reinforced concrete. I’ve mailed correspondence to President Obama and Gov’s Christie & Cuomo with my offer to work on this regional planning which should be done, but am not holding my breath.

  • G.S.

    Why not propose using wave-energy generators like the ‘GyroGen’ to help protect the coastlines, at the same time as lots of energy is being captured during storms? If these devices were strung alone coastlines, they could absorb much of the damaging wave energy and this energy could then be used for supplying emergency power and running emergency pumps to further help prevent flooding and sand erosion (these devices could reduce wave heights by more than half).  Unlike very expensive proposed structural solutions, they would be cheaper to install and useful year-round. Such renewable energy  devices could provide electricity 24/7 (supplying up to 25% of all coastal energy needs), while at the same reducing coastal erosion – even in normal times. This seems to me to be a win-win proposal. You can get LOTS of renewable energy, while at the same helping to protect the coast lines and reducing flooding during major storms. It would also coast a lot less (probably less than $10B-$20B).

    - G.S.

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