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Rethinking Coastal Retreat

Rethinking Coastal Retreat

Sandra Knight ended a three-day summit on coastal protection with a challenge: stop thinking of retreat as defeat.

A growing list of communities are being forced to consider relocating homes and business as sea level rise leads to erosion and record flooding in areas like Annapolis, Maryland, Norfolk, Virginia, and Miami, Florida. Louisiana alone has lost 1,900 square miles of coastal land to sea level rise, land subsidence, and erosion since 1932. And scientists expect an additional loss of 2,250 square miles in the next 50 years if conditions continue without action to restore the land.

But relocation, Knight argued, doesn’t have to mean loss.

“It’s not about losing communities. It’s about saving them,” said Knight, a senior research engineer with the University of Maryland’s Center for Disaster Resilience.

The challenge was posed at the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) 2017 Coastal Summit. The annual event allows elected leaders, beach managers, engineers, and representatives from non-profits to gain insight from and provide feedback to federal agency officials. The summit also gives attendees the opportunity to discuss shared coastal protection challenges and best practices.

Managed retreat, said ASBPA Executive Director Derek Brockbank, is an area where more science-based decision tools and frameworks are needed to guide community decisions.

“What we know is that a buyout is not a relocation plan,” added Knight. “That’s not going to help people who want to stay together. It’s not going to preserve cultures.

“We need to have better community engagement. They live with this, they understand it, and they should help shape what happens.”

Knight and Brockbank acknowledge that relocation is not a silver bullet and won’t be appropriate for many communities. Instead, they want to see it folded into comprehensive community resilience planning.

“We’re not just restoring or retreating—it’s not an either/or.” said Brockbank. “We need to be doing both.”

In fact, ASBPA has asked Congress to allocate $5 billion over the next 10 years for beach, dune, and wetland restoration and preservation. The association has also pledged to support a coalition led by former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu that is seeking a $1 billion annual appropriation to support and protect coastal economies.

“When we talk about coastal infrastructure investments, we are really talking about paying for protection rather than damages,” said Brockbank.

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March 14, 2017


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