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Hurricane Sandy relief and the future of coastal policy

Western Carolina University Geology Professor Rob Young posted an excellent essay last week about federal Hurricane Sandy relief legislation and its inclusion of controversial provisions to rebuild the coast “as it was” prior to the storm.

“It may be that we, as a nation, decide that it is worth spending billions of dollars to rebuild this nation’s beaches, but the decision should not be taken quickly, or lightly. Such rebuilding projects will only provide temporary relief from rising sea levels and storms — we will need to spend the money again. And there should be full consideration of the science behind the design of each project and the environmental impacts, which the current bill ignores.

Coastal experts across the country have implored local and federal leaders to take an enlightened approach to replacing infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Sandy and to look for opportunities to change the footprints of communities in an effort to reduce exposure to the next storm. If we are going to invest federal dollars in reducing property at risk in a community, we should be spending the money on long-term solutions, such as relocating roads and buying out the owners of high-risk properties. There are numerous examples of the federal government moving entire towns out of the floodplain after inland floods, including Vallmeyer, Illinois along the Mississippi River. But because it involves high-priced real estate, relocation has never been considered an option for coastal resort communities.

I am not suggesting that the coast should be abandoned. I am suggesting, however, that federal investment in maintaining obviously vulnerable development be reconsidered.”

I haven’t heard whether the problematic provisions are still in the proposal — which the House just passed this afternoon — but whether they are or not, Young’s piece does an excellent job of highlighting the broader issue — namely, that Americans are going to have to adjust their vision of what the nation’s coastline looks like in the decades ahead whether we want to or not.

Read Young’s entire essay by clicking here.

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Hurricane Sandy relief and the future of coastal policy