There will be a heavy price to pay, possibly unbearable, for the $64 trillion worth of buildings already lining the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of America. The warming world’s rising seas and strengthening storms eventually will require an expensive response — protecting those communities with walls, flood gates and pumps that change their character, or buying them out for, well, about $64 trillion. Meanwhile, the bill for handling storm damage keeps rising.
Sandy, not even a hurricane when it made landfall in Ocean County, caused $71 billion in damage. Among its casualties in 2012 were two Egg Harbor Township marinas on the Margate causeway. Since then, the destroyed Sea Village Marina and Gifford Marine have been uninhabitable.
The township wants to make the properties attractive, productive and a source again of significant tax revenue. To that end it has declared the area blighted and in need of redevelopment.
A couple of weeks ago the Township Committee approved a planning board proposal to build townhomes, multi-family residences and a restaurant at the site in the middle of the salt marsh. Where a storm destroyed the development seven years ago, new homes and apartments would be added to the docking facilities one might expect on a back-bay waterway.
That’s probably the highest-value use of the property, since demand for waterfront second homes is strong at the Jersey Shore.
Sea Village Marina might also remain the last place in New Jersey with houseboats (the stationary kind), since some had 99-year leases on their boat slips. The state Department of Environmental Protection banned them in 1985, a few years after they were built, but grandfathered in those already existing.
Egg Harbor Township might also offer these marsh projects tax incentives and other financial help that are possible within a redevelopment area. Why that would be needed seems mysterious, since many other housing projects at sites in extreme risk of flooding have been built solely with private funding.
This development amid wetlands is being considered as the state and federal governments proceed with their $3 million study of possible ways to reduce back-bay flooding on barrier islands. Gates across inlets, floodwalls and levees — probably costing in the billions — have been looked at so far.
Another part of the DEP will review the township’s redevelopment of the causeway properties. Perhaps it will agree to put new residences in harm’s way even as others at the agency struggle to find an affordable way to protect those that already exist.
If society can’t stop increasing its costly exposure to coastal storms and flooding, there isn’t much hope that it can address or even comfortably bear the liability for the massive risks already created.