House Washes Away in Wildwood

Hurricane Joaquin will be staying out to sea, not making landfall. But we are experiencing a coastal storm right now, a Nor’ Easter. This is a garden variety Nor’ Easter; we get one like this every year, maybe a couple times a year. But this one has washed away a home in the Grassy Sound section of Wildwood, NJ. Read all about it in the Press of Atlantic City story here.

All the sand in the world on the beaches of Wildwood would not make the least bit of difference to these folks.  The same can be said for all of NJ’s 127 miles of beach.

New Study on NJ Storms Goes Back to 850 A. D.

A new study by Rutgers, Penn State Princeton, Tufts, and MIT suggests that storms are getting more frequent and more intense along the NJ coast was released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ben Horton of Rutgers was part of the team and you will remember him from the film Shored Up.

“A storm that occurred once in seven generations is now occurring twice in a generation,” he said.

Full story by Wayne Parry in the Record here.

“Issac’s Storm” – a Good Read

We’ve been on vacation here at Rethink the Jersey Shore, on a barrier island. It is hurricane season after all so the summer reading included Issac’s Storm by Erick Larson. We could barely put it down.

It’s about the hurricane that struck Galveston, TX in 1900; the incredible hubris of forecasters and residents alike, and the incredible devastation that followed.

Of course people will say that could never happen these days. But that’s what they said back then. Looking backwards at what has happened before and preparing for that has never served us well. Imagination of how bad it could be, and preparing for such a scenario is the best course of action. In this case, a glance back helps prepare the imagination.

Beachfill and Safety

Beach replenishment is one of the only tools in the Army Corps of Engineers’ toolbox, not to mention the largest. We have said it deserves a critical eye for quite some time now, and Delaware Beach Life magazine did just that from the safety perspective. Lynn R. Parks takes a good hard look here, one needs to register to see the full article, but it is free and well worth typing in your name and email.

If one more person breaks their neck on a replenished beach will all that expensive, temporary property protection be worth it?

Hansen Predicts 10 Feet of Sea Level Rise by 2100

Former NASA Scientist and preeminent climate predictor James Hansen has released a new study saying the ice sheets of Greenland are melting 10 times faster than predicted and there could be 10 feet in sea level rise by 2100. He also says a 2 degree (only) increase in global temperatures as a target for an international agreement on climate change is not going to cut it.

This man has been called alarmist, and right by the same people. Great coverage on by Eric Holthaus here.

And also in the Daily Beast here by Mark Hertsgaard


Security Theater

The big news this week was that the Transportation Security Administration, TSA, failed 95% of tests where undercover agents brought weapons, fake bomb parts and contraband through airport security screening. Why is a website dedicated to coastal resilience telling you this? It is because we hope to avoid the coastal equivalent of Security Theater. Security Theater are the activities that look good to the untrained eye; full body scanners, people taking their shoes off, etc., that do not really keep us safer.

We are wondering if there is a coastal equivalent – if there are things that “look good” but that don’t really protect the vast majority of us. A better question might be what is the most efficient? What measures provides the most protection for the coastal resiliency dollar. We definitely can’t send fake hurricanes up the coast to test this.

Our guess is that beach replenishment is in the category of things that look really good to the untrained eye. But upon closer inspection, it takes a massive amount of resources, but delivers most of the benefits to a very small number of people; the owners oceanfront line of houses. Even then the protection is mostly from wave attack, and this is only when massive dunes are built. We have plenty of evidence that beaches replenished with no dunes provided little protection from Sandy. So even with replenishment, everyone behind the oceanfront line of houses on barrier islands is still subject to regular flooding and inundation, and everyone on the mainland lining the bay is vulnerable still. No amount of sand on any ocean-side beach will protect those on the other side of the island or the other side of the Bay.


2.5 Years Later Only 10% with NJ State Aid Have Rebuilt

This is why we need more Rethinking. If you believe we will just rebuild (again) after the next Sandy, listen to these three stories of people getting government aid to rebuild by Scott Gurian of NJ Public Radio and NJ Spotlight. The process of dishing out government aid and rebuilding is so messy, so inefficient, and so fraught with pitfalls that we should Rethink at every opportunity and get these homes out of harms way.

Given the choice, do you think these people would have taken a government buyout of their property before the storm? Or the living hell they are going through now trying to Rebuild afterwards?

The $24 Million Mile

Beach replenishment has always been expensive, and we can distinctly remember a project in 2008 when the cost reached the $10 million-a-mile mark. So we found it astounding that the recent beachfill in Monmouth County from Loch Arbour to Deal, NJ – a stretch of 1.6 miles – clocks in at a whopping $38.2 million. That’s damn near $24 million a mile. But wait there’s more. This beachfill does not even include dunes, only flat, wide beaches the kind that provided no protection from Hurricane Sandy. The kind of beachfill that Spring Lake, Belmar, Monmouth Beach, and Sea Bright all had. Yet those towns suffered devastating losses as a result of Sandy.

At any price, we think the impacts on recreation, the loss of surf breaks and fishing habitat are not worth it. The disgusting sand is not worth it. And the band-aid applied to our poor coastal planning and development is not worth it. But at $24 million a mile, this practice needs some serious thought. There are 127 miles of NJ oceanfront. At this rate, that’s $3 Billion, on top of the $1 Billion already spent on replenishment in this state. Can you think of anything you would rather have the federal government do with $3 Billion?

Good just-the-facts-ma’am kind of reporting in this NJ Spotlight article by Scott Gurian is where we pulled the numbers from.

Coastal Relocation Part 5

The Subtitle on this one is – How an historic Nor’easter, and Act of Congress, and then eleven more years of political battle turned back development from one of the largest barrier islands on the East Coast.

Assateague Island, which stretches from Maryland all the way into Virginia celebrates its 50th year as a National Seashore this year. If you know this area, you know what a gem this is and here is an excellent historical account of how it came to be in this Maryland Coast Dispatch article. It is long but I urge you to read it.

The short version is that development was planned for the island, land was purchased, surveyed, subdivided, roads were paved, thousands of lots were bought, some were developed. Sound familiar?  The State of Maryland was interested in establishing a State Park on the Maryland side and that finally happened in a sweetheart deal with a developer. The developer “donated” 540 acres for the park in exchange for the State building a bridge so people could get to his developments. Then the 1962 Ash Wednesday Storm hit.  Ponies on AssateagueThe development was more or less obliterated. Previously attempted efforts to establish a National Park / National Seashore were renewed and in 1965 that finally happened. But the legislation establishing the National Seashore did not completely halt all commercial and residential development, so once again developers pushed forward.

A visionary citizen named Judy Johnson created the Committee to Preserve Assateague and a member of Congress advised her that the only way to keep development off the island was to change the enabling legislation that established the National Seashore. Eleven years later, she was finally successful and we all have her to thank.