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Hurricane: Development of Beachfront areas Not Safe in US

US Beach Building Persists Despite Nature’s Grip

FILE - Homes severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy are seen along the beach in Mantoloking, N.J., April 25, 2013. Mantoloking and Ocean City, N.J., planned to go to court to seize control of narrow strips of beachfront land from property owners blocking a desperately needed protective dune system along New Jersey's 127-mile coast. (VOA)

When a hurricane comes ashore, few images are more iconic than a million-dollar beach house collapsing into the sea.

Undermined by the ferocity of water, shifting sands and sometimes bad construction, waterfront development takes a beating each time a powerful storm barrels into the Eastern Seaboard.

So why do people keep building on the beach?

“Development of beachfront areas is controversial,” writes Florence Duarte of Georgia State University in the report Responsible Beachfront Development. “On one side, a growing human population demands the use of such areas for recreation and work. On the other, environmentalists and biologists hope to preserve these habitats.”

Sandbags surround homes on North Topsail Beach, N.C., Sept. 12, 2018, as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast. (VOA)

A balance

The balance between the human desire to work and play on the water — and developing the waterfront responsibly — often is tested during hurricane and storm season. Despite increased intensity and frequency of storms, rising sea levels and other weather catastrophes, the beach remains the most desirable of destinations: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that more than half the U.S. population lives along a coast, and 180 million people visit each year.

Housing and rental prices along East Coast beaches in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York’s Long Island and Cape Cod in Massachusetts exceed the national average because of the views, fresh air and access to water activities. The point of sitting for hours in traffic on a hot, summer Friday is to get away from developed, urban, asphalt centers for the weekend.

Development tapped out

But many resort destinations are reaching maximum development.

In Ocean City, Maryland, a 14-kilometer-long barrier island that is home to about 7,000 permanent residents in the off-season, swells to more than 300,000 vacationers in the summer and on holidays.

“The development has pretty much tapped out,” said J.D. Wells, a Realtor and lifelong Ocean City resident. “The oceanfront is completely developed. Any new construction being done is replacing a tear-down that was already there.”

Properties that sit along the waterfront or have a view of the ocean can fetch more than double equivalent properties inland, Wells said.

FILE – People walk along a beach near damaged beachfront homes, March 11, 2018, in Marshfield, Mass. The Northeast is bracing for its third nor’easter in fewer than two weeks. (VOA)

Views and taxes

Towns and cities collect substantial tax revenue from those waterfront and water-view properties, sometimes charging homeowners tens of thousands of dollars more in taxes for the luxury of owning beachfront property. In many areas that have seasonal ebbs and flows, tax revenue from those properties can fill municipal coffers that benefit permanent residents, many of whom cannot afford the waterfront prices of seasonal residents.

“Over the past few decades, society’s wealth, attitude and desires have shifted and floodplains are now being developed in more upscale ways,” said Andy Coburn, associate director for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

“We can’t overlook the demand for coastal land, no matter how vulnerable or risky,” he added.

To protect beachfront properties, some towns have pushed back on nature by replacing sand stolen by storms. And while beach replenishment is expensive — Virginia Beach, Virginia, set aside $10 million for six years of sand replenishment — it is not permanent. The ocean is supposed to pound away at the beach, dragging it back out to sea.

In New Jersey, the state earmarked $1.2 billion for projects that reduce hurricane and storm damage, manage coastal storm risk and replenish the beaches that generate nearly half of the state’s $45.4 billion in annual tourism dollars.

FILE – The remnants of a home leveled by Hurricane Matthew sit along the beachfront as Chief of Police George Brothers talks on the radio after Hurricane Matthew hit Edisto Beach, S.C., Oct. 8, 2016. (VOA)

Building codes for new construction require windows and doors that can withstand high winds and hold back flooding. Wells explained that seawalls and sand dunes are erected as barriers. But nature is mighty.

Powerful even on a normal day, the Atlantic Ocean, when combined with the energy of an extreme storm, can cut through solid land. Residents of Ocean City, Maryland, wandered out after a storm in 1933 to find that a 15-meter wide, 2.5-meter-deep inlet had been sliced into the south end of their barrier island, opening a convenient channel for fishing and pleasure craft between the ocean and the bay.

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Likewise, the ocean created an inlet in Chatham, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, while snatching vintage, brown-shingled cottages into the sea in 2009, according to the Boston Globe newspaper.

“A compromise needs to be found that is responsible to both demands. Rational, sustainable usage of these areas is possible if people are willing to spend time and money in planning,” Duarte wrote.

“Bounded by water, coastal and waterfront communities are challenged to make the best use of limited land while protecting critical natural resources from the potentially damaging effects of growth,” says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in its SmartGrowth report. “These communities must consider a common set of overarching issues when managing growth and development.” (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. Government Human Rights Report Shows ‘Amber’ Warning Light Situation in Hong Kong

"Human rights issues included substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association [and] restrictions on political participation," the report said.

The flags of Hong Kong (left) and its communist ruler China, in file photo. RFA

A U.S. government human rights report is ‘an amber light’ for the human rights situation in Hong Kong, with some of the city’s traditional freedoms under threat, commentators told RFA.

The State Department highlighted several areas of concern in its 2018Human Rights Report published last week, in particular, “encroachment” by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing on Hong Kong’s promised autonomy.

“Human rights issues included substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association [and] restrictions on political participation,” the report said.

The report cited multiple sources as saying that Chinese operativesmonitored some political activists, nongovernmental organizations(NGOs), and academics who criticized Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong,which is supposed to be separate legal jurisdiction under the terms of the “one country, two systems” framework.

The move came as the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned ofincreasing self-censorship among local journalists, often among mediaoutlets with business interests in mainland China. VOA

It also pointed to cross-border detentions and abductions, citing thedisappearance of businessman Xiao Jianhua and the cross-border rendition of Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, who is a Swedish citizen.

“Xiao’s and other abductions show the Chinese Central Government’swillingness to act contrary to the rule of law and undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the report said.

It said Hong Kong and Chinese officials had restricted, or sought to restrict, the right to express or report on political protest and dissent, particularly the notion of independence for Hong Kong.


“But if Hong Kong’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate in the next couple of years … for example, if we see more kidnappings, then I think the U.S. is very likely to abolish Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading territory.” VOA

The trial of dozens of protesters, including key figures, after the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement on public order charges had”raised the cost of protesting government policies and led to concerns the government was using the law to suppress political dissent.”

The report also cited the jailing of two disqualified lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yao Wai-ching, last June for four weeks on “unlawful assembly” charges, following scuffles with Legislative Council security guards in 2016.

It said the banning of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party(HKNP) last September was one example, while the disqualification of six pro-democracy lawmakers for “improperly” taking their oaths of allegiance was another.

The U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) voiced concern at thetime over the ban, which relied on colonial-era legislation under theSocieties Ordinance that originally targeted criminal organizations, or “triads.”

“The UK does not support Hong Kong independence, but Hong Kong’s highdegree of autonomy and its rights and freedoms are central to its way of life, and it is important they are fully respected,” the statement said.

‘An amber light’

Hong Kong political commentator Sang Pu said the State Departmentreport had struck a note of warning to the international community.

“I don’t think this is a red light, but it is an amber light,” Sang told RFA, adding that a further deterioration could affect Hong Kong’s international reputation as an open port.

“But if Hong Kong’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate in the next couple of years … for example, if we see more kidnappings, then I think the U.S. is very likely to abolish Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading territory.”

Another red flag would be the enactment of sedition, subversion andnational security laws, as mandated by Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, Sang said.

Meanwhile, a national law passed by Beijing in September 2017“criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner during its rendition,” the State Department report said, adding that Hong Kong will soon legislate to make the law apply in its own jurisdiction.

It also pointed to the effective expulsion from Hong Kong, the first since the handover, of Financial Times Asia news editor Victor Mallet, after he hosted at event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club featuring HKNP founder Andy Chan as the speaker.

The move came as the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned ofincreasing self-censorship among local journalists, often among mediaoutlets with business interests in mainland China.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Alvin Yeung, who also heads Hong Kong’s CivicParty, said he shares concerns over Hong Kong’s reputation.

“Our most important competitor, Singapore, has free trade agreements with pretty much the rest of the world, and Hong Kong is lagging behind,” Yeung said.

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“Our international image is probably that Hong Kong wouldn’t be capable of such a thing,” he said. “Other countries might not be interested in pursuing free trade agreements with Hong Kong, because there are no benefits to doing so.”

But pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung said Hong Kong remains a free society.

“We have a very high level of human rights protection,” Leung said. “I hope they aren’t going to suppress our economic freedom under the guise of human rights.” (RFA)