Post-Hurricanes, New Normals
Painful realities are being felt in coastal communities as residents consider rebuilding in an uncertain climate-impacted future.
In New York and New Jersey post-Sandy, as well as Louisiana post-Isaac, residents are now faced with tough decisions about rebuilding (and what that means), or retreat (and what that means). State and local governments simply do not have the resources anymore to be re-armoring shorelines and rebuilding infrastructure after storms that are expected to be increasing in size and frequency. And the general public doesn’t think the federal government should be spending money on such things either.
After hurricane Sandy, the states of New York and New Jersey are taking a hard look at coastal communities. Since most communities are only as protected as the weakest fortification on the coastlines, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie expressed frustration at property owners who are not yet on board with a $3 billion plan to widen beaches and build protective dunes.
In New York, federal relief dollars are also being used for rebuilding what’s been damaged and fortifying for the future. But some $400 million may be set aside to purchase what may be lost forever. As New York’s Governor Cuomo noted in his State of the Union address, “There are some parcels that Mother Nature owns. She may only visit once every few years … and when she comes to visit, she visits.”
In Louisiana, though, the situation is more dire. Half the population of Plaquemines Parish in south Louisiana is faced with impossible choices imposed by FEMA — raising homes high in the air or paying impossibly expensive flood insurance premiums, on land that is essentially disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico. The stories are heartbreaking.
For many families, landowners, and businesses established on American coastlines, the sea levels and coastal storms are having an real impact. Many will lose land and investments, and many will lose family tradition and important connections to history.
Indeed, for many, retreat connotes defeat. But there’s also opportunity in re-imagining the coastline. Softer and more expansive coastal landscapes can afford room for wildlife habitat and beach recreation while also providing an effective protective buffer for human development. Communities that have suffered from storms are coming to this conclusion out of necessity. But there’s no requirement that communities learn it the hard way — resilience (and retreat) can and should start now.