In the aftermath of Sandy, I have read people that have dismissed the coastal damage as just so much whining because the victims chose to live close to the coastline.
There's a little bit of truth to that. I wouldn't own a home at the beach or next to a river, except I do live next to a river but on the high cliff side. But I'm a skeptic. A house has to be sited just so for me. I know a little about a little, and lot about building and other appurtenant site considerations. But that's not the point. There are civil planners that should consider these things before things get built. We have the data on floods going back to the beginning of this country. We have the data of rising sea levels. Civil planners are supposed to anticipate and hedge a little and err on the side of safety, not push the envelope. If everybody had expert knowledge about these things, we wouldn't need historic weather data and elevations or civil planners. We have compartmentalized these jobs and decisions through our democratic processes and delegated all that stuff to the experts, so we can leave other people to their particular expertise to ply their trades.
And then there's insurance. Insurance acting responsibly would deny coverage for extreme risk or make the cost of premiums exorbitant. It doesn't seem to have done that. Instead it sloughed off flood insurance to the Federal Gov't. Why? Because the risk was too extreme and they simply dumped that cohort out of their business model to be socialized. The gov't hasn't shown any sign of changing their underwriting either. Even in cases where large swaths of homes have been wiped out, they have covered the losses and allowed rebuilding and new policies to be sold, on the same sites that have proven to be extreme risks.
I am reminded of a piece John Stossel did years ago wherein he looked at beach homes and how they repeatedly got decimated, but insurance paid and these homes were rebuilt again and again. These homes were expensive as most coastal property is. Stossel was rather smirky [when is he not?] about the whole thing. I think he may have owned one of these homes. But, no worries, insurance covered it.
Which brings us back to who is responsible for continuing the practice of allowing things to be built where they most assuredly have extreme risk based on past data and and global warming trends. It's our local governments and the Federal Government with the underwriting of flood insurance. The local governments are seemingly fine with it. It creates a larger tax base and promotes business and they have the Federal Government to back them up. Except when they don't. If you don't have flood insurance, you don't get covered. This morning on MSNBC they showed a 20 year deli business in NYC that was flooded out. Ostensibly there were hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment damage and maybe as much as that in food inventory. Then it was alleged that there was no insurance to cover any of it. I want to think this is an isolated incident but I fear it is not, especially with the economy being what it is, people will shed expenses and take chances. At any rate, the basement of this building was still entirely flooded and until the water is removed, no business of any kind will take place there.
Who is taking responsibility for these failures? Sandy was a big storm, the biggest and it was anomalous, maybe. Maybe it is the new normal. Even if an aberration, we see that the possibility exists for a repeat event because it happened once. Do not cities and municipalities have a duty to examine trends and adjust infrastructure to plan for this type of event? Rezoning should be in order. Seawalls and bulkheads should be mandatory, setbacks should be lengthened. We shouldn't rebuild that which has a good probability of being blown down, putting life and property at risk, even though it is "covered". Flood insurance underwriting should be tightened. We have to disallow some projects because they provide quick cash up front and a lucrative tax base. It ends up costing us more, all of us.
The Netherlands have spent billions of dollars and years of study and planning keeping their wetland nation secure from sea rise and storms. Sixteenth or seventeenth in GDP rankings depending on whom you consult, with a population of about 17M, they invest quite a large portion to making sure their plot stays intact. But the Netherlands aren't looking for the short haul or the instant buck like we do. They are involved with maintaining their land so it can be lived on. As an aside, they also offered to come in and fix New Orleans for a tenth of what ACOE proposed and with a better system. But we're political and ultimately that means the money is going to flow to where the money is already connected and from the Federal Gov't., because that is how our system works. It doesn't work for responsible contemplative types who want to make something that lasts and avoid shocking loss. No, it works for the well placed and well funded MOTU who already have more than they could ever need.
Castles made of sand fall into the sea eventually.... ~J.H.~