Gov't. Remapping of Sandy-Damaged Areas May Curb Coastal Development

By Susan Jones | August 20, 2013 | 11:46am EDT

"By building more resilient regions, we can save billions in taxpayer dollars," HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a task force report on rebuilding Sandy-damaged regions. (AP File Photo)

( - If your seaside home or business washes away in a coastal storm, will you be allowed to rebuild? Or would sand dunes in place of buildings make the area more "resilient"?

The federal government announced on Monday that it is remapping storm-damaged areas of the East Coast, a move that will contribute to new "resilience standards" for the post-Hurricane Sandy rebuilding effort.

The updated Environmental Sensitivity Index maps will provide "important reference material for green infrastructure planning," said a report released Monday by a federal task force that is shaping the rebuilding strategy.

According to the task force, "Green infrastructure includes natural and/or restored features (e.g., wetlands or sand dune ecosystems), that incorporate the natural processes (e.g., flood protection, water filtration) that are recognized as integral to community, economic, and environmental resilience. These approaches have proven successful in other regions, and it appears they reduced flood damage where applied in the region impacted by Sandy."

In fact, the task force recommends that "green infrastructure options" be considered in all post-Sandy infrastructure investments.

Three federal agencies -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- announced Tuesday that they will use ships, aircraft, and satellites to measure water depths, look for submerged debris, and record altered shorelines in high priority areas from South Carolina to Maine, as stipulated by Congress in the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.

“Our approach is to map once, then use the data for many purposes,” said NOAA Rear Admiral Gerd Glang in a news release. “Under the Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act, NOAA and its federal partners are taking a 'whole ocean' approach to get as much useful information as possible from every dollar invested to help states build more resilient coastlines.”

The data will be available to local, state, and federal agencies as well as academia and the general public. The information can be applied to updating nautical charts, removing marine debris, replenishing beaches, making repairs -- "and planning for future storms and coastal resilience," NOAA said.

Rising sea levels

The U.S. Geological Survey plans to collect very high-resolution elevation data as part of the remapping process. That fits with the Obama administration requirement that all federally-funded rebuilding projects in the Sandy-affected region must account for future risks posed by rising sea levels.

According to the task force report on rebuilding Sandy-damaged areas, "Even a moderate amount of sea level rise will increase the flooding that coastal storm events cause."

'We must prepare communities across the country for the impacts of climate change, many of which are already being felt," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan blogged.

The Sandy rebuilding task force, chaired by Donovan, noted that it has "worked to ensure that the decisions being made with regard to coastal planning, management, and risk assessment in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy include in-depth analysis of both current and future conditions, especially related to future sea level. These actions will help identify and evaluate resilient rebuilding options..."

Kevin Gallagher, a USGS scientist, called the loss of life and landscape destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy "a stark reminder that our nation must become more resilient to coastal hazards."

He added that "Sandy's most fundamental lesson is that storm vulnerability is a direct consequence of the elevation of coastal communities in relation to storm waves. Communities will benefit greatly from the higher resolution and accuracy of new elevation information to better prepare for storm impacts, develop response strategies, and design resilient and cost-efficient post-storm redevelopment."

"By building more resilient regions, we can save billions in taxpayer dollars," HUD Secretary Donovan wrote in the report released Monday.

Donovan also indicated that the post-Sandy rebuilding effort will serve as a model for the nation: "The benefits of resilient rebuilding to a neighborhood hit by Sandy can and should be replicated by communities across the Nation," he wrote in the report's introduction.

Resilience Institute

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell went to New York last week to announce the establishment of a new Science and Resilience Institute at Sandy-ravaged Jamaica Bay, in Queens.  She also announced a $100 million competitive grant program to build "safer and more resilient communities."

"We gather about nine and a half months after Hurricane Sandy devastated communities across New York City but across this entire region as well," Jewell said. "In its wake, our nation was forced to face some very simple truths--that climate change is real, that it’s posing new and growing threats to our neighborhoods, and in the future we need to build our communities in a way that addresses these growing challenges. We can’t just build back the way we were. We have to build back better and stronger."

She said the nation needs "the very best scientists" to "assist these communities and the ecology as well."

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