I know this post is going to piss off a lot of people and make me seem extremely insensitive to the plight of many of the victims of Hurricane Sandy and the aftermath many are still enduring. On the first point, pissing people off, I really don’t care. On the second, I’m sorry. I do feel terrible about the loss of lives, property and the devastation that took place, much of which I think could have been avoided now and can be avoided in the future.
A few nights ago, I was watching the news and one of the many victims of Hurricane Sandy was being interviewed. Her house on the Jersey shore, which had been in her family for 3 generations, had been laid to waste. This house was situated on a barrier island, probably no more that a couple of hundred feet from the ocean. She stated that her family planned to rebuild that house in a “responsible and sustainable way.” One of those moments that make me go “hmmm.”
Think about the term “barrier island,” which are usually narrow pieces of sand that are meant to protect the mainland from the ocean. A barrier, a shield, an obstacle to prevent the ocean from flooding the mainland. Mother Nature designed these strips of sand to flood at times, for the sand to recede during certain times of the year and than to be replenished at other times of the year. Here on the east coast, we have barrier islands that stretch from Florida to Maine. If put something on that barrier island, a house, a road, a building of any kind. you disrupt the natural course of things. The island no longer becomes a barrier but a target for disaster, which we have seen time and again.
Some people call them natural disasters. If you ask me, the disaster occurred when you took the island out of it’s “natural” state. Now when these disasters occur, everyone’s knee jerk reaction is to rebuild; push the sand around; get the army corps of engineers into to replenish the beaches; yada yada yada. I ask why? To what end? I swear it seems to me we are always rebuilding the beaches.
Let me stop for a second and say that I’m a big fan of the ocean. Love the beach, would love to have a friend with a house on the beach, would love for that friend with a house on the beach to invite me down, maybe even give me my own room to use whenever I want. Just because I love the beach doesn’t mean I want to see it destroyed…and by destroyed I mean by people not by nature.
Now comes the aftermath. Our Governor, who has performed admirably during this catastrophe, talks about his days spent on the Jersey shore and how he wants to see it restored to it’s previous glory. Excuse me Mr. Fiscally Conservative Budget Cutting Governor but who is going to pay for this? Who are the primary beneficiaries of this rebuilding? You want to rebuild the beaches? I’m OK with that. You want to rebuild the all those structures, houses, roads, etc? Here we have a problem.
How many of you out there have been to the Jersey Shore? Ever been to Island Beach State Park? Island Beach State Park is a beautifully preserved part of the barrier island, that also contains Seaside Heights, a not so beautifully preserved piece of that same barrier island. Between Seaside Heights and Island Beach State Park, there’s a piece of land called Seaside Park. What it should be called is Seaside Trailer Park because you have a cluster fuck of homes, one on top of each other that sprawl from the Atlantic Ocean to Barnegat Bay. For several blocks, I doubt there is one inch of what could be recognized as a barrier island – no sand, no dunes, no native beach grass. Just roads, cars, and mobile homes piled one on top of each other. This area is the poster child for everything that is wrong with allowing over development on a barrier island.
When Katrina struck New Orleans, I remember one of the political type comedians (either Jon Stewart or Bill Mahar) stating that he believed that “New Orleans should be rebuilt…in Arkansas.” Well, just like it doesn’t make any sense to me to build a city below sea level in an area surround by water that is historically prone to flooding, nor does it make any sense to me to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild these barrier islands unless you are going to start returning them to their natural state.
If you are like me, you believe that the earth is getting warmer, that the seas will continue to rise and our climate will become more volatile. I’m not calling it global warming because that term has political connotations to it. Our climate goes in cycles. Thousands of year ago we were in an ice age and now we are in warming cycle. Will it last? Who knows. What’s the cause? Probably a combination of things but the past several years should make us all stop and think. We need to realize our planet is changing, getting warmer (for whatever reasons), the oceans are rising, and if we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.
In this past Sunday’s New York Times, I read an article about what we need to do to plan for the future with regards to our coastlines, the rising waters, the devastated eco-system and how we currently use our barrier islands. A Columbia University climatologist used the term “managed exodus.” In other words, we need to start retreating from the barrier islands over the next several years in a carefully thought our manner. If things keep going they way they seem to be going, by the end of this century, it won’t make any difference as many barrier islands will become un-inhabitable. Do we really want to invest billions of dollars to save slivers of sand that have been totally abused for decades and decades? Only time will tell but I think we are fighting a losing battle.