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A Smart "Ounce Of Prevention” For Rising Coastal Storms

PHOTO: Superstorm Sandy was the most expensive hurricane in history, but a new report says we're not doing what we should to prepare for the rising impact of extreme coastal storms connected to climate change. Photo by Wikimedia.
PHOTO: Superstorm Sandy was the most expensive hurricane in history, but a new report says we're not doing what we should to prepare for the rising impact of extreme coastal storms connected to climate change. Photo by Wikimedia.
October 27, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. – Natural barriers and smarter coastal and floodplain construction can be the ounce of prevention for the rising storms caused by climate change, according to a report timed to the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy this week.

The insurance company Allied World helped write Natural Defenses from Hurricanes and Floods.

Wesley Dupont, the company’s executive vice president, says incentives now mean it's too easy to build in vulnerable areas, and too hard to preserve the wetlands, floodplains and barrier islands that can protect a coast.

"The amount of dollars that are spent on flood and hurricane relief after a storm are astronomical,” he points out. “And it's just an inefficient spend. Cost effective, nature-based approaches just make good business sense."

The insurance industry is watching climate change and the rise in sea levels with alarm. Dupont says even the lobby of the company's New York office had five feet of water after Sandy.

The Hampton Roads metroplex is considered one of the places in the country most vulnerable to the rising seas.

The National Wildlife Foundation worked on the study. Collin O'Mara, the group’s president and chief executive, says even since Sandy hit two years ago, the county has fallen behind on the investments it needs to make to prepare for storms like that, such as protecting healthy coastal wetlands and barrier islands.

He says one acre of wetland can hold up to a million gallons of water.

"When a storm comes through and you have healthy wetlands, and their ability to absorb the energy from these storms really is a sight to be seen,” he says. “And if you don't have these kind of natural systems in place, that water's going to go somewhere else."

Some of the other issues highlighted in the report include Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) policies and the national flood insurance program.

Dupont says Americans are subsidizing development on barrier islands and paying to rebuild construction in places like floodplains that are naturally vulnerable.

"We the taxpayers are bailing out the rich that have second homes or beach houses in these areas,” he maintains. “In fact, we're really putting people at greater risk, and we need to do just the opposite."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA