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Another futile waste of time and money in combating rising sea levels

Sea-level rise 2The latest story comes from New York but it might has well be Florida or North Carolina. Once again, politicians (this time led by New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo) are opting for the politically expedient “quick fix” that will make everyone feel good for a few moments but do nothing to address the long-term scientific reality that confronts the American eastern and southern coasts.

This is from a “must read” editorial in yesterday’s New York Times by one of the nation’s leading coastal geologists, North Carolina’s own Prof. Rob Young of Western Carolina University:

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $207 million plan to dredge millions of tons of sand off the south shore of Long Island and spread it along the beaches and dunes. The Army Corps of Engineers, which will direct the federally financed project, says it will stabilize Fire Island and reduce the storm surge hazard for the mainland.

In fact, the project will do neither. It is a colossal waste of money and another consequence of the nation’s failure to develop a coherent plan to address the risks from storms faced by states along the eastern seaboard and gulf coast.

As Young goes on to explain, not only is the project unnecessary in that the barrier island in question is already naturally rebuilding itself (and that the dredging about to take place will disrupts important endangered wildlife habitats), but it’s also emblematic of a broader and even more serious problem: The U.S. literally has no comprehensive plan to deal with rising seas:

There is no national plan to manage the coast. No plan for storm-damage reduction. No plan for how best to allocate federal funds. And no plan for how to respond to coastal hazards and rising sea levels over the long run.

This leaves governments reactive rather than proactive. Most money is provided only after a disaster occurs, and is to be used in the areas affected by that one storm.

The bottom line: North Carolina politicians are always loathe to follow in the footsteps of “liberals” from the northeast. Here’s one instance when such an attitude would be appropriate. Let’s hope state leaders begin to listen to their homegrown national expert and to chart a more responsible course for managing inevitable coastal changes that’s guided by science rather than wishful thinking and powerful real estate interests.

Read Young’s entire editorial by clicking here.

Learn more about his research on the future of our coastline by clicking here.

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