November 16, 2012

Retreat...

... from the shoreline.
Hurricane Sandy’s immense power, which destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, actually pushed the footprints of the barrier islands along the South Shore of Long Island and the Jersey Shore landward as the storm carried precious beach sand out to deep waters or swept it across the islands. This process of barrier-island migration toward the mainland has gone on for 10,000 years.

Yet there is already a push to rebuild homes close to the beach and bring back the shorelines to where they were. The federal government encourages this: there will be billions available to replace roads, pipelines and other infrastructure and to clean up storm debris, provide security and emergency housing. Claims to the National Flood Insurance Program could reach $7 billion. And the Army Corps of Engineers will be ready to mobilize its sand-pumping dredges, dump trucks and bulldozers to rebuild beaches washed away time and again.
Should we fight in New Jersey and on Long Island, fight the seas and oceans, fight with growing confidence and growing strength, whatever the cost may be, fight on the beaches, fight on the shorelines, fight for the summer cottages and ocean views, fight and never surrender? The enemy is Nature, and a show of fierce determination will not influence her in the slightest. She's not angry or vengeful or subject to intimidation. She's incapable of perceiving that we think we're at war with her, but if she were, our fist shaking could only be mildly amusing. It doesn't even make sense to say Nature is assured of victory or even that victory was always hers. "Victory" requires a pre-victory condition, and there was never any such thing.

We give meaning — glory! — to life by pretending there is a war and imagining never surrendering or at least holding out in a long  — make believe it's long! — siege. But should the government deliver floods of tax money to imbue our charade with more realism?

68 comments:

Expat(ish) said...

Several years ago a hurricane cut a trough right across Holden Beach here in North Carolina. Holden is a pretty substantial barrier island.

They just filled it in and replanted the sawgrass. Five years later you couldn't even tell it was there.

Good deal for the homeowners (except for the $40K deductible, ouch) probably not so much for the taxpayers in Nebraska who helped pay to protect the assets of the 1%.

-XC

rehajm said...

But should the government deliver floods of tax money to imbue our charade with more realism?

This is the creed of the Obama administration. Of course it should...

Ignorance is Bliss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ignorance is Bliss said...

Growing up, I spent my summers on Long Beach Island. Love it there. Parts of it were badly damaged, others not so much, largely depending on how well the dunes were maintained in the different communities.

The people living there ( or owning rental property or businesses )should be paying for their own repairs and future defenses. They enjoy the benefits, they should bear the costs.

YoungHegelian said...

If you build near the ocean, you're an idiot, and you should bear the costs of being one.

There are businesses like docks & resorts that have to be on the shore to do business. That's fine. They can build their insurance fees into their cost of doing business. But, living there because it's "purty"? Knock yersself out, but don't act surprised when the sea decides to take you out.

When Katrina flooded New Orleans, one area that didn't flood was the French Quarter. That's because in the old days, when folks didn't have Federal insurance, one French pioneer said to the other "Pierre, it iz all swamp down zhere. We will build on ze 'igh ground 'ere".

Alan said...

I think it was an event like this where John Stossel, a Long Island home owner, turned from being a liberal to a libertarian. He couldn't believe that he really had assumed no personal risk for owning a beach house, since the feds were so willing to help him rebuild.

Bill Beeman said...

This is a long-standing problem, and it isn't only coastal areas that benefit from ill-considered government largesse.

There are areas in the river bottoms in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, among others, that flood repeatedly, and government subsidized flood insurance pays to rebuild in the same spots.

We are subsidizing idiocy.

edutcher said...

The Lefties would, of course, say, "Only if you have government insurance".

You build near the water, you accept the risks.

Galveston rebuilt with a sea wall after the 1900 hurricane, and that's probably the way to go. That said, if you want to pay property taxes for that sort of thing, knock yourself out.

This storm was something of a fluke.

edutcher said...

PS Grand little Churchillian riff, Madame.

K in Colorado said...

What if some Greens decide to block this by suing under some enlightened government regulation? Environmental Impact studies and other such tools could be used to delay rebuilding of beaches, islands, or homes for years.

SteveR said...

In geologic terms there is nothing less stable than a barrier island. This is as close to "settled science" as it gets.

David said...

Rule 1: Eliminate federal flood insurance and let the market provide insurance.
Rule 2: No government relief for individual or private losses. Government will rebuild public infrastructure.

This is an issue along the entire coastline from Maine to Texas. There's a large enough base that private insurance could work. That would start to place the real cost of building in these areas on those who build, and allow the market to identify what those costs actually are.

Will this happen? No, of course not.

But we can talk about it.

elkh1 said...

"But should the government deliver floods of tax money to imbue our charade with more realism?"

The only question when tax money is involved is "how much".

It's other people's money to build "victims" brand new houses.

It's other people's money to "create" construction jobs.

It's other people's money, it is "free", to buy politicians' votes.

Obama was re-elected with loads of other people's money to buy food stamps, unemployment checks, disability checks, social security checks.

Romney was so last century to talk about "cuts, reforms, jobs", so quaint.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Should we fight in New Jersey and on Long Island, fight the seas and oceans, fight with growing confidence and growing strength, whatever the cost may be, fight on the beaches, fight on the shorelines, fight for the summer cottages and ocean views, fight and never surrender?

Well, sure, as long as it's the taxpayers who live hundreds or thousands of miles from the shorelines are stuck for the bill.

Cynicism aside, do read John McPhee's book "The Control of Nature", which sheds very useful light on such futile schemes.

EMD said...

Wait? We are now to fight Gaia's wishes?

I'm confused. I thought she was the great arbiter and we shan't mess with her.

Nonapod said...

I really dislike the argument of "Well, it's nature and there's nothing you can do about it so you shouldn't". If we consistently surrendered to nature's inevitability we would still be wearing animal skins and crouching in caves with an average lifespan of 25. I'm not suggesting we should do stupid things like build homes on top of active volcanoes, just that I think the argument of succeeding everything to nature is bullshit.

Seeing Red said...

We should have adjusted New Orleans after Katrina.

Surfed said...

Never build a home or own property that God still has an active hand in - this includes earthquake faultlines, in the immediate vicinity of volcanoes and oceanfront.

Sorun said...

We can fund the rebuilding along the shore with carbon taxes collected to fight the rising seas due to climate change.

Nonapod said...

I meant "ceding everything to nature" not succeeding. I hate when I use malapropisms.

Bob Ellison said...

Here's my story:

I own a townhome in Sea Bright, NJ on one of the worst-hit barrier islands. I have private home insurance and private flood insurance, and I agree with the general argument here: the homeowner should assume the risks. I did when I bought the place-- figured I might not get much back if it was wiped out.

Many of the homes near my place were, in fact, wiped out. It's a pretty humble town; the mansions are north and south of us. Many of the people in Sea Bright live there year-round and are nowhere near the 1%-- not that that should be a reason to just say "f___ 'em".

I've learned that the secret to success is having a tenant who goes out of his way to pile sand bags against all of the crevices. I think he does that partly because he loves the place and appreciates the good deal we give him on rent, but he does it mostly because he's a very fine person.

Still no power, gas, or much of anything else in Sea Bright, but the town managers have established a 7-day working schedule, and the residents have banded together to help each other. Even the hated FEMA seems to be responsing pretty well.

LarsPorsena said...

Save the Hamptons!

karrde said...

@edutcher,

This storm was something of a fluke.

I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. Hurricanes have come ashore near NYC before.

The best-known is sometimes called the Long Island Express.

I'd say that Sandy was the re-occurrence of an event that happens once or twice a century, not a fluke.

K in Colorado said...

Problem for Galveston was that the seawall was not enough when Ike hit. The storm surge covered most of the island, flooded thousands of structures, with the salt water killing thousands of trees. The Federal flood insurance program can and does specify how one can rebuild, requiring homes to be elevated, and so forth.

You can rebuild if it is done smartly, taking into account both wind and storm surge. Texas now has strict building codes for coastal homes for both windstorm and potential flood areas (pre-Ike). Ike also completely wiped clean hundreds of homes on the Bolivar Peninsula, and most of these were elevated 20 feet. The only homes that were left were those built to the newer codes, and they survived because their pilings and homes were able to withstand the 20 - 30 foot storm surge.

I lived in Texas right near the coast when Ike hit, and my house had sustained winds of 100+ mph for several hours. The only damage I had was slight damage to the roof, my wood privacy fence blown down, and some of my landscaping uprooted and/or snapped in two. The strict building codes protected my house. Similar analogy to building codes in California for earthquakes. Summary: let people rebuild, but do it correctly.

Of course, strict building codes won't protect you from the neighbor's southern pine tree that is 90 feet tall, 3.5 feet in diameter, which uproots and bisects your house. This happened to me when I lived in an east Texas city hit by Rita a few years before Ike (couple of months after Katrina). My similar sized tree in my backyard uprooted and took out the other neighbor’s garage – she wasn’t too upset, since these were older homes, and she got a new garage out of it.

Sam L. said...

Living near water has it's hazards, that storms can make worse. Federal insurance (paid by me, for those better off by far than me) is NOT an investment, it's an encouragement of bad/no planning.

I watched a storm on TV in L.A.; camera in a restaurant facing the ocean--and a wave came up and through the plate glass window. Same storm took down a pier.

Austin G. Hart said...

Milton Friedman on self-interest and the profit motive:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ev_Uph_TLLo&feature=player_embedded

There's a quick bit about flood insurance.

K in Colorado said...

On the question of insurance, people in Texas coastal counties now have to get their windstorm coverage through the state, your homeowners insurance no longer covers damage from hurricanes and the like. The insurance is very expensive and the deductible for anything related to homeowners or windstorm is typically 2% or more. Not $500, not $1000, but at least 2%, so people are assuming the expense of the risk. The damage my home suffered from Ike was below the 2% deductible, so it was paid for out of pocket.

Here in Colorado, after this past summer’s wildfires, there is talk of doing the same thing here for damage by fire. If you build your house in the canyon or mountainside in the middle of a forest, there will be a fire at some time. May not be for 20 or 30 years, but it will happen eventually. I suspect new codes will go into place and you will have to build with concrete walls and roof, and not the pretty log house.

girlvermonter said...

My family rented summer cottages on the Outer Banks while I was growing up. Later we owned an old black shingled cottage that was destroyed in a 1970's winter storm. We didn't rebuild and sold the land. No insurance. I am not opposed to gov. public and private land restoration and rebuilding with some limited gov. insurance backing. (I know it is hard to define reasonable). Millions of people enjoy renting beach cottages owned by people willing to take some risk for the enjoyment. Along the southern beaches more and more modest houses are sold due to rising property taxes, the economy, insurance costs, etc. and being replaced by larger and fancier ones built by folks who can absorb the higher costs. Take away some limited gov. assistance and insurance then all the small time owners will be gone as well as the middle class renters who long for that porch view overlooking the ocean...even if it is just for a week. If we had rebuilt our cottage some 40 years ago, it would probably still be standing showing how fickle these storms are.

edutcher said...

karrde said...

@edutcher,

This storm was something of a fluke.

I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. Hurricanes have come ashore near NYC before.

The best-known is sometimes called the Long Island Express.

I'd say that Sandy was the re-occurrence of an event that happens once or twice a century, not a fluke.


That was my meaning, sorry if I didn't express it more clearly.

I was born and raised just outside Philadelphia and had relatives in Bergen County NJ and I never saw a storm like this in my life.

dmoelling said...

Beach houses used to be "shacks" for a reason before they morphed into year round million dollar homes. It's not so much that the building codes and guidelines are inadequate but that political pressure not to enforce them is so strong.

Driving through Colorado Springs this summer I saw signs "thank you firefighters" but also noticed that none of the expensive mountain homes complied with Colorado or USDA guidelines for vegitation.

ricpic said...

Althouse, as a thoroughly modern person, mocks the heroic stance. Where would the Dutch be without the heroic stance? They would never have beaten back the North Sea. Would never haven even made the attempt. But of course the Jersey shore will be rebuilt and homes will be rebuilt in the "danger zone" because ordinary benighted people, God bless 'em, are not all in thrall to the modern stance.

rcommal said...

Are there any studies out there that look at the costs of *occasional* catastrophe (as opposed to, say, houses that flood every year or beaches that erode with normal storms every season) as against the ongoing economic and other activity benefits?

That's a serious question. Because if something is truly a fluke over the long run, it seems to me that it would be useful to use a cost-benefit analysis over the long run. Just a thought (which I acknowledge I might not have put well).

Does "fluke" cut both ways? Are there offsets over time, and if so, shouldn't those be taken into account as well?

rcommal said...

Take the Jersey Shore. Would it be fair to say it's been an engine of business and economic growth for decades and decades and decades? If rebuilt, would that also be a fair thing to say? If so, does this complicate the discussion we're having here?

Strelnikov said...

"We will never give up our beach houses. We will never surrender our sandy lifestyle, no matter what the cost."

karrde said...

@edutcher,

no problem.

Kind of depends on whether "fluke" means "unpredictable", or "rare enough to not happen in living memory."

Interesting tidbit: the historical record has more than a few major storms (many now interpreted as hurricanes) that hit or swept by New England.

At lesat, the historical stuff referenced on Wiki has many more New England Hurricanes than I expected. The number that hit the location of New York City appears to be less than 5. (Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the hurricane in 1938, and others in 1866, 1821. Heavy rain associates with nearby hurricanes was recorded at NYC in 1825 and 1786.)

I find it interesting that such storms happen rarely enough to be surprises or flukes within any single person's lifetime, but often enough to leave a trail in the historical record.

chickelit said...

Surfed said...
Never build a home or own property that God still has an active hand in - this includes earthquake faultlines, in the immediate vicinity of volcanoes and oceanfront.

So condemn the whole of Holland while you're at it.

YoungHegelian said...

@chickelit,

If it wasn't for the presence of the British Isles, which are, in essence, a huge barrier island, Holland would be uninhabitable. Since the British Isles aren't going anywhere for the next tens of millions of years, we can give Holland a try.

Our coasts have no such natural blessings. They are almost all much further south, so they get pelted by more warm water storms than anything Europe ever sees. Not to mention that hurricanes, like typhoons, head mostly west because of the Earth's rotation.

rcommal said...

Cat bonds at risk

Surfed said...

@chickelit - It's just good advice. Ignore it at your peril.

CWJ said...

King Canute was unavailable for comment.

Surfed said...

@chickelit - Or pay the price for it when peril comes your way as it surely will.

chickelit said...

@surfed: Matthew 7:24-27

Yes, it is good advice. Annie Laurie Gaylor would like to free us from such wisdom.

chickelit said...

Surfed said...
@chickelit - Or pay the price for it when peril comes your way as it surely will.

Calm down surfed. No need to get all rigtheous.

Big Mike said...

Can we afford to help rebuild homes and shorelines? Nope. We're broke. End of story.

@chickelit, go look at a map. There's nowhere in the Netherlands (don't call it "Holland" in front of a Dutch native - it marks you as ignorant) that isn't within about a hundred miles of a polder (counting the ones that go back to the 11th century), and the Netherlands is one of the most densely-populated nations on earth. They have a national interest in polders. What interest does a resident of Iowa have in paying taxes to rebuild multi-million dollar vacation homes on barrier islands?

Surfed said...

Well you told me to just go ahead and condemn all of Holland but I realized the passive/aggresiveness of the comment. And there wasn't anything self-righteous about my comment, just a clear eyed understanding of what happens during hurricanes having living through several here in Florida. It's a common wisdom for oldsters like me (passed down through the generations) that you don't build on beachfront unless you are willing to lose all. You're more than welcome to follow folly and build there. But folly it surely is. Eventually anyways.

sean said...

Last I checked, the homeowners along the shore, like most members of the 1%, pay substantial taxes. So it is their money that is being used to rebuild the beaches just as much as it is our money.

rcommal said...

Is Iowa a good example given aide it has received due to rivers flooding?

Surfed said...

@Chickelit - Curious as to why you thought I should "calm down" when I'm not riled in the least.

Surfed said...

@rcomal - Good question.

rcommal said...

IIRC, both Iowa and NJ pay in more dollars to the fed govt than the receive back. Should that be taken into consideration? To be clear, I don't lnow if diaster relief aide is figured into that analytic. Just ruminating on the topic.

chickelit said...

Big Mike inveighs:
@chickelit, go look at a map. There's nowhere in the Netherlands (don't call it "Holland" in front of a Dutch native - it marks you as ignorant)

Kunnen wij Hollands praten?
Can we speak in Dutch?

Heh. I learned that one from my Dutch FIL.

Yes, Holland is but a province of the Netherlands, but no it is not ignorant of me to say such things.

A Dutchman using "Holland" is no more arrogant than us using "America" while neglecting Canada, Mexico, and countries further south.

Lighten up. The holiday season is upon us.

Surfed said...
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rcommal said...

chickelit: Heh. I was going to basically say the same thing, only referencing my Dutch aunt.

Surfed said...

One thing inlanders don't seem to clue in on is that the actual property loss is minimal vis a vis the constant rebuilding and replenishing of our beaches by the Federal Govenment. There's the real cost and expense to keeping the 1% with a nice expanse of front yard sand.

Ed said...

"Never Give An Inch!" - Hank Stamper

chickelit said...

@surfed: see my 12:02

leslyn said...

But should the government deliver floods of tax money to imbue our charade with more realism?

No. And it's not realism. It's wishful thinking.

And if you didn't buy flood insurance, you shouldn't get any money.

And if you want to rebuild the beach, the states should do it. They and their taxpayers have the primary interest in it.

Everything else, like preventing homebuilding on the shore, requires regulation, so will not happen.

leslyn said...

Surfed said...
Never build a home or own property that God still has an active hand in - this includes earthquake faultlines....

Actually, that also includes Wisconsin.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

It is a futile gesture to retreat. The natural order is predominant in all things, from conception to grave.

Life is an exercise in risk management. The cause of corruption is a dissociation of risk which arises through both voluntary and involuntary processes. Our ability to properly manage risk has been deliberately sabotaged through efforts to denigrate individual dignity, devalue human life, and other (e.g. history, science, reality) selective considerations.

Bob Ellison said...

Just so y'all know, in New Jersey at least, the funding for beach restoration is about 65/35, federal/state+local.

That sounds like too much of a federal kick-in, but it's probably not out of line with lots of other federal subsidies (agriculture, national parks, environmental cleanup, etc.) the results of which are enjoyed not just by the states that encapsulate these subsidies, but by tourists from other states.

Your proposal, leslyn, amounts to abolishing vast amounts of federal spending. I'm all for that!

cathy said...

I'm from the Pacific, not the Atlantic. But when I see some project like piles of rocks, seawalls, or jetties I know that they are just making more of an erosion problem for a few years out. I've seen beaches that come and go every few years. Sand has to be free to move. But if they can build a barrier island and replant it and it works, that's different. But whenever I see pictures of the Atlantic there is a jetty in the photo. So, yeah, I think that's a fight they should give up.

Clyde said...

Anyone who owns beach property should understand that they are merely renting it. Mother Nature is the true owner, and as Sandy, Katrina and other hurricanes have shown, she can reclaim it any time she wants. People along the Gulf of Mexico generally understand this, and many build their houses on stilts. Those who don't, renovate.

They're called "barrier islands" for a reason. And I live 20 miles inland for a reason, too. I'm among the few people in my county who don't have to worry about storm surge.

Peter said...

"Galveston rebuilt with a sea wall after the 1900 hurricane, and that's probably the way to go.

Yet Galveston has still sustained substantial damage from hurricanes. Although the sea wall has greatly reduced the extent of the damage.

The political reality is that a relatively small group who benefit greatly from a government program will always organize more effectively to maintain that program than will the larger group who are taxed to pay for it.

Lionheart said...

Most of the Lower Manhattan flooded area is landfill, not the original coastline of the island. Not so much building too close to the water as trying to push the water back to gain "land".
http://gotham07.cleardev.com/c/?q=node/67

chickelit said...

@Lionheart: This map shows the progressive reclamation through the centuries: link

K in Colorado said...

Now that I live at 6,000 ft in elevation, I no longer have to worry about storm surge either.

Oso Negro said...

Peter said...
"Galveston rebuilt with a sea wall after the 1900 hurricane, and that's probably the way to go.

Yet Galveston has still sustained substantial damage from hurricanes. Although the sea wall has greatly reduced the extent of the damage.

The political reality is that a relatively small group who benefit greatly from a government program will always organize more effectively to maintain that program than will the larger group who are taxed to pay for it


Yes. As a Galveston resident, I wish the rest of the country would leave us alone after a storm. Without the greasy meddling paws of the Feds, we could have a nice Island by now. Instead the Obamanauts are FORCING us to rebuild public housing at PREPOSTEROUS expense. Here in G'town you can get liveable digs for $100-150 K. You bitches are paying to build housing for the poor at closer to $350 a unit. And no one will help us stop the madness. Not the laughable Governor of Texas, nor the rotten poster boy of fiscal conservatism, Congressman Ron Paul. And Democrats? Nigga, please! If you criticize the plan, you racist!