In the wake of Hurricane Florence, one question plagues me (again):
Are we going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA and other public emergency funds to rebuild homes along the hurricane-battered coast, only so we can do it all over again when the next hurricane/tornado hits?
Or, will we finally adopt the common-sense, economically sustainable long-term solution: Don’t Build/Rebuild Along the East Coast?
It would be far less costly for our state and federal governments to partner with the insurance companies and purchase these ocean-front properties at fair market values, combine them into one or more nonprofit public parks, and simply let Nature take back the coast, as it is clearly bound to do.
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A buy-back provides a fair exit for the owners of all those vacation beach houses that, despite peak rental costs of more than $500/night, always seem to be for sale, presumably due to mandatory and exorbitantly high flood insurance.
For generations, N.C.’s preferred (and costly) solution has been to dredge sand from the bottom of the ocean and pile it onto the beaches in a futile attempt to prevent them from eroding. According to the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, Nags Head beaches are eroding about 6 feet per year. The Washington Post reports that Nags Head is “spending $48 million — and raising taxes for property owners — dredging sand from the sea floor and pumping it onto beaches.”
Meanwhile, the ocean keeps pounding away, creating dangerously deep sand bars and accompanying rip tides that result in more drownings every year, drownings exacerbated by the hundreds of thousands of tourists that literally live on the beaches during summer.
But it goes farther than public safety.
A 2012 state bill addressing how far houses can be built from the ocean actually banned consideration of sound scientific data predicting rapid rises in sea-levels (20-55 inches by 2100). Since that bill passed, more recent data have predicted East Coast sea level rises of one inch per year, greater than the 2012 prediction.
It should come as no surprise that measured sea levels did increase by 5 inches from 2011-2015 in many areas from N.C. to Florida. What about year-round coastal residents and businesses? As coastal homes disappear, year-round residents and businesses (who would also be eligible for buy back) will be able to affordably move upstream, away from the future barren coastline.
People will always want to go to the ocean, whether they stay in a house on a crowded and dangerous shoreline or whether they have to walk/drive a half-mile or so down the road to enjoy the pristine coast. The local economy will take care of itself. Our state and federal governments owe it to us to take care of our long-term health and safety.
Melissa Rooney is a children’s author and long-time Durham resident. Her good friend, Austin Joy, drowned saving his twin daughters from a rip current at Atlantic Beach. Connect at www.melissarooneywriting.com.