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Coastal Expert Says Think Before Rebuilding the Jersey Shore [AUDIO]

FULL COVERAGE: Sandy Leaves Jersey Shore in Ruins

Hurricane Sandy battered the New Jersey coast, devastating beaches, ripping homes from their foundations and washing boardwalks and amusement rides into the angry ocean.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the destruction has left the state with a blank canvas to redevelop.

But, coastal experts and environmentalists are urging state officials to think first, before they put plans in motion.

“With climate change and warming, the next 50 years is going to be much different than the last 50 years,” said Jeffress Williams, Coastal Marine Geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “It’s important to have the discussion about how the coast should be rebuilt because you have to put it in the context of what the climate is going to be like and how that will impact New Jersey. I think some of the traditional coastal engineering practices of rebuilding the coast that we’ve done in the past ought to be rethought and we ought to be thinking of new and different ways to deal with sea level rise and storms like Sandy not only for New Jersey, but other coastal areas as well.”

“We know that there has been an acceleration in sea level over the past several decades and due to geologic factors as well as oceanographic factors, New Jersey and the mid-Atlantic region is experiencing a higher rate of relative sea level rise than the rest of the world,” said Williams. “And with warming, that will continue and I would expect sea level rise to accelerate even more in the future than it is now. Storms are another element that drives coastal change and Sandy is a prime example of that. Storms like Sandy that we used to say were a one in 100 year storm or one in 200 year storm are probably going to become the norm and will occur more frequently. There are twice as many large, major named storms now than there were in the 1960s and 1970s, which I think is a direct result of the warming of the atmosphere and the warming of the ocean.”

With that said, Williams believes the state should consider how to protect its coastal areas from Sandy-like storms.

“New Jersey traditionally has used beach nourishment by dredging sand from the continental shelf, putting it on the shore, raising the elevation of the beach and building dunes and vegetating those dunes. Beach nourishment can withstand modest storms, but when you get a storm like Sandy, it doesn’t hold,” he said. “Another option is to build sea walls and you can build them high enough and big enough to protect the infrastructure behind it. The problem is, you tend to lose the beach in front. The third option, which may not be very popular, is to move away or relocate, just recognize that some parts of the coast are so dynamic, erosion rates are so high and the areas are so low and so frequently flooded, that it doesn’t make sense to maintain infrastructure and development in those areas.”

“You can also use a combination of those options,” said Williams. “The problem is that it comes at a very high price and it comes down to a political decision on how the taxpayers want to pay for it.”

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