Now That We Are Starting To Do It, Can We Get Adaptation Right?

A new study in the Journal of Ocean & Coastal Management concludes that decisions regarding which adaptation projects to put in place are not being made on the basis of what is most efficient and effective in the long run and that the poorest citizens are bearing the brunt of these mistakes, Bloomberg reports The New York Times reported on one such decision, to reverse a policy of the Fish & Wildlife Service that will allow a beach replenishment project in Stone Harbor, New Jersey to go forward using $6.5m in federal funds to take sand from a “borrow area” within an area protected under the Coastal Barrier Resources Act.

Why This Matters:  Environmental groups explain that if protected coastal barrier islands are “mined” for sand it harms birds and other wildlife, destroys important habitat and reduces the protections these places provide against impacts of storms and erosion.  Beach replenishment is preferable over hardening coastlines to protect them from the climate impacts we are already experiencing, but sometimes buyouts will be more cost-effective than repeatedly replenishing.  Local coastal economies rely on beaches for tourism — these communities are strong advocates for healthy oceans and coasts free from pollution and oil and gas drilling so buyouts in those areas may not be possible.  Doing adaptation the right way may be more expensive and may require difficult choices about how to be fair, and not simply undertake projects that disproportionately benefit the wealthy landowners and increase the vulnerability of poor and historically marginalized communities.

Trump Administration Rollback

The Interior Department changed the policy on funding the removal of sand from protected coastal barrier islands at the request of a Democratic Congressman from New Jersey.  These protected areas were originally created in 1982 as the Coastal Barrier Resources System that protects 1.4 million acres of land around the country from development.  Until the Trump Administration reversed it, the Interior Department prohibited the use of federal funds to remove sand from those protected areas.

Stone Harbor’s Beach Replenishment

Several times in the past, during Republican and Democratic administrations, the Interior Department granted an exception to allow the use of sand from the same location in the Coastal Barrier Resources System in order to provide flood and coastal storm damage reduction by adding sand and renourishing the Stone Harbor coastline three timesStone Harbor’s mayor said of the Interior Department decision, “Stone Harbor Point is now an ecological asset, created only by previous beach fill efforts. Now we can continue to preserve the Point as an ecological treasure while at the same time using sand in the Inlet for the protection of our communities for many years to come.”

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