Extreme weather events, exacerbated by climate change, have been piling up at unprecedented rates. From record-setting snowstorms to out-of-control wildfires to deadly flooding, catastrophic weather over the past two years has devastated communities across the country. What we have not seen, however, is a major hurricane.
What about Matthew? For all the damage wrought by that storm, it was not a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) by the time it made landfall in the Carolinas – having lost some of its punch as it roared up the east coast of Florida. Superstorm Sandy? As large and devastating as it was, it made landfall in the U.S. as a Category 1 storm. Looking at the effects of both of those, imagine how much worse they could have been had the winds been above 111 mph – the Category 3 level.
In reality, it has been a record nine years since a major hurricane made landfall in the U.S. Another one is coming… maybe this year, maybe next year, or maybe not for a few years. But sure as the seas are rising, another storm is coming – and it could very likely be on the next administration’s watch.
With that in mind, American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) wants to know what candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s plans are for keeping our coastal communities safe. Both candidates have made statements about the need to invest in infrastructure1,2, but the focus for both has been roads, bridges and transportation corridors.
We would like to know how each would invest in natural coastal infrastructure that protects coastal communities (and their residents, visitors and very vibrant economies) from hurricanes, storms, sea level rise and other natural coastal disasters.
Beaches, dunes and wetlands have been shown to significantly reduce flooding and wave damage from coastal storms. During Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey towns that had wide beaches and high, healthy dunes suffered far less damage than towns that had ignored their coastal erosion problems. Afterwards, the U.S. Army Corps Engineers completed a comprehensive study of the North Atlantic coast that showed the most effective coastal protection combined natural defenses (such as dunes, marshes and oyster reefs) with structural protection (breakwaters, seawalls, etc).
Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina, developed a coastal “master plan” that integrated restoration of wetlands with structural and nonstructural protection. And yes, in both the Northeast and in Louisiana, communities in the most vulnerable areas will probably not be able to stay put as the seas rise.
But expecting everyone in a coastal zone to move is as inappropriate as it is unfeasible. So although permanently moving some communities out of harm’s way should be considered, the federal government’s priority should be reducing risk for people living and staying in coastal communities. As a reminder, we’re talking the potential of a lot of people, since 50% of this country’s population lives within 50 miles of the coast.
The “federal government,” of course, also means Congressional candidates representing coastal communities, who should be asked the same infrastructure investment question. While a president can propose federal spending, only Congress can authorize those funds – so Congressional candidates vying to return to DC or hoping to win a seat in Congress should also be prepared to outline how they will invest to protect the lives and jobs of those who live along America’s coasts.
Frankly, given the value this nation’s coast brings to the national economy, every candidate for Congress, coastal or not, should be committed to protecting this incredible and invaluable economic engine.
So as we wait for the next major hurricane, what is our national coastal “master plan”? Are we content to suffer the same damage that we’ve seen with past hurricanes and nor’easters — and the damage we can expect from sea level rise and increased coastal flooding? Or do we (through our elected officials) have the will to implement the lessons learned through loss of life and flooded homes, and restore our coast and rebuild our coastal infrastructure to reduce the risk of devastation from storms and other natural disasters?
In any coastal state, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump should have to answer these questions – as should those running for Congress. A rote answer about investing in infrastructure that focuses on roads and bridges, but ignores coastlines, is not good enough. In seeking to lead the country for the next four (or more) years, any presidential candidate should have a detailed plan about how they will invest in keeping coastal communities safe – and they need to have a Congress that will put federal monies behind those plans.
So, candidates: What are your plans to protect the coast?
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ABOUT ASBPA: Founded in 1926, the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that advocates for healthy coastlines by promoting the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org, Facebook or www.twitter.com/asbpa. For information, to change your email address or to unsubscribe from this list, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. A complete collection of Beach News Service articles is available for media access online at. https://asbpa.org/publications/american-beach-news-service/