Sunday, October 27, 2013

Superstorm Sandy Update

NBC news anchor Brian Williams was the guest of Meet the Press on October 27, 2013. Inhis report on conditions a year after Superstorm Sandy he raises several very important issues for students of coastal policy.

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First, he reviewed the level of destruction which we saw during the storm but which we may have forgotten already. Williams visited some beachfront areas where he had lived which were still in shambles

Second, Williams commented about "community" which is critically important because coastal neighborhoods are not "just" summer places and homes by the sea. These are sociological entities. There are social fibers that bind people to their community. There are cemeteries where ancestors are buried and generations of families have their roots. There are economic structures and institutions that empoly people and generated taxes.

Third, his comments about the future are of critical importance for students of coastal zone management.

For example, the response by property owners is largely to rebuild the beaches, waterfront and the homes JUST AS THEY where before the disaster. whether this is realistic or not is not clear but there has been significant push back against simply recreating the exiting land and seascape.

The second is the response of government to the disaster. This comes in two portions.
The first is that FEMA and other finding for disaster recovery has been too slow to come. Even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, much applauded after the disaster for his quick response and for chumming with Barack Obama to gain state/federal cooperation, has been criticized for not managing the recovery quickly enough. 
The second is a strong criticism by many beachfront property owners that government projects are placing barriers between them and the ocean view. These, in the form of high sand dunes and in some cases steel barriers, are widely opposed by folks whose view of the expansive beach and the Atlantic ocean is obstructed thus harming property values. 
Finally, Williams mentions the "retreat" option. This has been actually enacted in countries where property rights are much weaker than in the United States such as Venezuela as well as many European countries. Moving properties away from the storm surge and damaging winds further inland and to higher ground is, of course one "natural" option which returns shorelines to nature.

Hurricane Katrina was a shock and a huge challenge to people and to governments at all levels. Superstorm Sandy was a surprise. Even the Hurricane forecasting systems of the United States made a horrible mistake in not keeping the term "hurricane" when Sandy's strength subsided from hurricane force winds. That decision alone is blamed for people and governments not taking sandy as seriously as they should have.

So there are numerous important coastal policy lessons to be learned from Sandy a year after. Perhaps these lessons can help prepare better for future climate change challenges in the coastal zone.

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