THE BLOG

Sound the Retreat

12/03/2012 04:48 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2013

Because of climate change, a permanent structure next to the water's edge in highly vulnerable coastal areas is becoming increasingly untenable from both an economic and public safety standpoint. For all practical purposes, rising seas and more intense oceanic storms make recreational beaches more suitable solely for visitation than serving as one's backyard.

Excluding the beach front as a residential area may sound like a radical idea. But when you consider that storms with the destructive potential of recent Hurricane Sandy are projected to occur with more frequency, the notion of shore dwellers' strategic retreat doesn't seem so outlandish.

Of course, there are caveats to pulling up stakes at the ocean's door. Pragmatism rules out coastal urban centers that are major population hubs critical to the national economy being uprooted en masse. Thus, despite the substantial expense, their harbors and most of their other infrastructure must be fortified with artificial (and natural when possible) barriers against nature's escalating fury.

It should be a different story for the scores of vulnerable low-lying coastal communities. Here are some potential steps to consider, difficult as it might be for neighborhoods long-entrenched a stone's throw from ocean beaches.

-- Flood insurance should be denied for any structures lining such beaches. If occupants want to repeatedly rebuild storm-shattered buildings in an exercise in futility, let them do so on their own dollar. Even the most affluent are likely at some point to lose patience and seek higher ground in the wake of incessant pummeling from nature.
-- Where possible, local jurisdictions should zone against future development at the water's edge and offer property owners at high risk either buyouts or subsidies to relocate inland.
-- If hard hit beaches must be preserved in their original state because of their importance to the local economy, a user fee should be levied on every person's entry to the sites to help finance repeated sand replenishment of washouts as well as repair of demolished sea walls.
-- Coastal wetlands that have been paved over should be restored wherever possible, and further deterioration of existing wetlands should be prevented. Society cannot afford to do without these invaluable buffers to nature's wrath.
-- Buildings, that as a matter of public policy, receive authorization to remain indefinitely adjacent to highly exposed beaches should be simple temporary structures easily disassembled upon advanced warning of an approaching monster storm. Local jurisdictions could serve as landlords and rent out these structures to beach-loving recreants on a first come, first serve weekly basis. As for the blueblood crowd, they might eventually have to be content with substantial setbacks of their beachfront mansions in deference to reality.
-- Even coastal structures removed to higher ground should be subject to strict building codes requiring ample protection against anticipated increased intensity of inland flooding.

Bottom line: beach-goers can still enjoy the ocean on a long term basis, provided they respect Mother Nature's new, more taxing ground rules.