It is preposterous to build in areas that are bound to flood. So why are real estate companies still doing it?
March 15, 2016 — Sea-level rise may be the most predictable outcome of climate change. Expanding warmer waters and melting land ice both contribute to flooding – and scientists agree that we are locked into sea-level rise for centuries to come. The question is not if we will retreat from the coast, but when. Still, the rush to develop the coast occurs at a maddening pace.
We now know that 13.1 million people are at risk of flooding along the US coast by the end of this century. A new study published in Nature Climate Change further suggests that massive migration will occur unless protective measures are taken. Since sea-level rise will speed up after the end of the century due to increased glacier and ice sheet melting, the flooding we face in this century is just the tip of the iceberg.
The problem is particularly severe along our 3,000-mile low-lying sandy barrier island coast extending, with a few breaks, all the way from the South Shore of Long Island to the Mexican border. Along this long barrier island coast, Florida has the longest and most heavily developed shoreline.
In Miami, a city perilously perched atop a very porous limestone, two multibillion-dollar construction projects are under way, despite the fact that parts of the city routinely flood during high tides and that widespread flooding by the rising sea in a few decades is a virtual certainty. No sea walls, levees or dikes can stop the rising waters from flowing through the underlying spongy limestone and into the city. Miami is ultimately doomed.
A few miles to the north, Fort Lauderdale is undergoing equally intense development and population growth. This city has more beachfront high-rise buildings per mile than any other American beach. According to Katherine Bagley of Inside Climate news “nearly 5,000 apartments or condos are or soon will be under construction” in the city, which already faces routine nuisance flooding. The city’s many canals make Fort Lauderdale all the more vulnerable to rising seas. In light of the wet future in store for the city, increased density is insane.
On the other side of the Florida peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico, a Fort Myers Beach developer proposes to build a massive project to include four beachfront hotels, nine restaurants and a 1,500-car parking structure; all to be protected with a soon-to-be-constructed half-mile-long seawall. If you need to build a seawall to protect your construction project, you should not be building at that site. Remember – seawalls destroy beaches.
Two barrier island communities deserve attention as the nation’s most vulnerable to sea level. On the east coast, North Topsail Beach in North Carolina is a narrow, low, rapidly-eroding island segment. In spite of the obvious natural dangers, the town has several immovable high-rises, at least one of which may soon fall in. On the Gulf coast, Dauphin Island, Alabama is an extremely low island that is frequently overwashed by storms, and repeated beach nourishment has done almost nothing to stop erosion.
Storms have severely damaged the west end of Dauphin Island five times since 1973. While the west end has no high-rises, storms, including hurricanes Katrina and Ike have repeatedly destroyed houses.
And, just a few years after Hurricane Sandy flooded much of the area, New Jersey’s Gold Coast (the Hudson waterfront) is experiencing a construction boom. Developers are building numerous high-rise structures, hoping to attract commuters seeking cheaper quarters than those available in nearby New York City.
They have taken measures to make these structures more resilient, but in this age of certain sea-level rise, it is preposterous to continue to build in areas that were previously inundated by floodwaters and will certainly be inundated in the future.
The time has passed for such foolish projects. The frequency of super costly “natural” disasters on the coast will only increase if we continue to cram buildings up against the beach and treat storms as urban renewal projects. It is time for a profound new outlook – where we construct smaller, less expensive and perhaps mobile structures and do not replace buildings destroyed and damaged in storms. It is time we prepare to retreat from the rising sea.