Commentary

Fayetteville Observer: Time to get serious about rising sea levels

Be sure to check out a new and on-the-money editorial today in the Fayetteville Observer about the hard reality posed by sea level rise, In “How long can we keep shoveling sand against the tides?” the authors explain that North Carolina beach communities are once more in the midst of their nearly annual effort to effect what’s politely referred to as “beach renourishment.”

The big dredge and heavy equipment have arrived in New Hanover County, where an $18 million beach renourishment project is about to begin. It’s a regular event in the towns of Carolina and Kure Beach, as it is in most of the East Coast’s communities with sandy beaches. Storms take a heavy toll. So do currents that run along the shoreline. It’s normal — barrier beaches naturally move and change configuration with tides, currents and storms. But when billions of dollars’ worth of real estate sits on those beaches, government works to protect them, periodically pumping sand off the ocean floor and onto eroding beaches.

That’s an especially big project this year, because Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence last year washed away beaches and sand dunes behind them in many places.

Next month, a big beach restoration project will begin in Carteret County, where they’ll pump more than 900,000 cubic yards of sand onto hurricane-depleted beaches. That only begins to undo damage from Hurricane Florence, which washed away about 3.2 million cubic yards of sand.

But as the editorial also points out, it’s increasingly clear that this pattern simply cannot continue forever as it only partially masks a serious problem that isn’t going to go away. Here’s the fine conclusion:

Some coastal experts say it’s time for the population to begin moving back from the beaches. The costs of continually rebuilding beaches, homes, commercial properties, highways and other infrastructure is growing steadily and at some point will be unsupportable. We doubt most people in coastal communities are ready to take that advice, but it is time for them — and for government at all levels — to take a hard look at rising sea levels and the incidence of more and stronger storms and calculate the costs going forward.

Shoveling sand against the tide has always been an apt metaphor for futility. And now, along much of our coastline, it’s a way of life. How long can afford it? What can we do to strengthen infrastructure? And who’s going to pay those bills going forward? We need to have that conversation.

Let’s hope Republican legislative leaders, who have long buried their heads in the sand on the issues of climate change and sea level rise, are paying attention.

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