Rebuilding the New Jersey coastline, but at what cost? – ‘Do you really want to throw good money after bad?’Posted by Jim at Saturday, May 18, 2013
By JENNY ANDERSON
18 May 2013
(The New York Times) – When a handful of retired homeowners from Osborn Island in New Jersey gathered last month to discuss post-Hurricane Sandy rebuilding and environmental protection, L. Stanton Hales Jr., a conservationist, could not have been clearer about the risks they faced.
“I said, look people, you built on a marsh island, it’s oxidizing under your feet — it’s shrinking — and that exacerbates the sea level rise,” said Dr. Hales, director of the Barnegat Bay Partnership, an estuary program financed by the Environmental Protection Agency. “Do you really want to throw good money after bad?”
Their answer? Yes.
Nearly seven months after Hurricane Sandy decimated the northeastern coastline, destroying houses and infrastructure and dumping 11 billion gallons of untreated and partially treated sewage into rivers, bays, canals and even some streets, coastal communities have been racing against the clock to prepare for Memorial Day.
Damage to the coastline was severe. In New Jersey, 94 percent of beaches and dunes were damaged, with 14 percent suffering a major loss of dune vegetation and beach erosion of 100 feet or more; 43 percent were moderately affected, losing 50 to 100 feet of beach, according to an assessment by the American Littoral Society.
Thomas Herrington, a professor of ocean engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, estimated that on one stretch of coastline, 500,000 cubic yards of sand were lost in the storm. “That’s unprecedented,” he said. “You usually lose that in a decade.”
The beach from Bay Head that extends north to Sandy Hook dropped six to eight feet vertically and eroded landward 100 to 150 feet horizontally, he said. In New York Harbor, Raritan Bay and Jamaica Bay, a quarter of the beaches and dunes lost 50 to 100 feet of beach to erosion; on Long Island Sound, about 28 percent faced similar damage. The Army Corps of Engineers will replace 27 million cubic yards of sand along the entire coast to restore and build “engineered beaches” in an effort to protect the homes and communities behind them, said Chris Gardner, a public affairs specialist for the corps’ New York district.
Many officials involved in storm recovery maintain that rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy will be different, incorporating the realities of climate change and rising sea levels. Some ocean engineers and coastal scientists are not so sure.
“My fear is that the environmental damage from Hurricane Sandy is going to be long-term and will result more from our response than from the storm itself,” said Robert S. Young, head of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University.
“There have been steps taken” to rebuild better, said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society. Houses have been elevated, and in New Jersey there are discussions about bigger and better dune systems, he said. But he cautioned, “When you really look at the macro — large scale — we are still going in and building in places that are risky.”
Massive beach nourishment projects will restore beaches but require expensive upkeep and affect ecosystems. Individuals and communities are racing to rebuild sea walls that hasten erosion. And federal taxpayers will foot the bill to rebuild communities that continue to be at risk.
One developer recently went so far as to advertise 24 waterfront acres for sale. The ad acknowledges that the property “has historically been wetlands” — on which development is barred — but noted that the storm had filled it in with sand. [more]