Superstorm Sandy Dictates a New Approach to Atlantic Coastal DevelopmentIn March 2011, I wrote a four-part article on the implications of Atlantis on our current culture. Using my vortexual theory of history, I compared the concept of Atlantean-elite thinking to our treatment of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Without repeating all that I said about New Orleans being the new Atlantis, I can now update those concepts with new information. When Superstorm Sandy barreled up the East Coast of the United States, she trailed a banner reading, “Here I come. Are you ready for the New Atlantis?”
The myth of Atlantis is a cautionary tale. It is about a proud, arrogant elite dominating a culture and denying the changes to its own climate and its own mortality. As the Atlantean culture sank beneath the ocean waves, the elites denied their problem until it was too late. Like Atlantis, the lessons of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans remain obscure. Now, with Superstorm Sandy fresh on our minds, we have another chance to learn from disaster. If we learn our lessons, we may chart a better course for the future of the Mid-Atlantic region.
For now, I will leave it to others to judge whether the initial search, recovery and disaster relief efforts were well planned and executed. Here in the West, the impact of Superstorm Sandy has been minimal. Media reports only hint at the deprivation and discomfort that many still feel. While writing this article, I stopped to send the text message “Redcross” to 90999. With that action, I donated $10 to relief efforts in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
In the aftermath of Katrina, disorganization, waste, fraud, graft and corruption drained away assets and energy from legitimate hurricane relief. Although it was obvious to many that New Orleans would never return to its pre-Katrina size, shape and population, our collective consciousness demanded otherwise. In the ensuing years, we saw formaldehyde-laced trailers brought in for displaced families. Actor Brad Pitt's architectural competition attempted to create homes that could withstand Katrina type flooding. Like monuments to old energy thinking, a few Brad Pitt Houses now stand, waiting for their test in the next big hurricane.
When Hurricane Katrina led to collapse of levees around New Orleans, the flooding was quick and deep. Residents caught in the flood either found their way to attics and roofs, or drowned in their own homes. Wind did not cause most of the damage, but rather it was the onslaught of deep water. Now, over seven years later, we hear of people trapped in their homes on Staten Island and other low-lying places near the shore. This time, wind-driven storm surge multiplied the effects of an astronomical high tide. Unlike New Orleans under Katrina, huge waves pummeled the mid-Atlantic shoreline.
After Katrina, roofs of intact houses poked above the floodwater. Along the beaches of New Jersey, wave action and tidal surge ripped homes off their foundations. Water and wind sent them inland, battering against their defenseless neighbors. After Sandy, near the shoreline, many houses no longer exist. Soon enough, the focus will turn to “rebuilding” homes and neighborhoods. To that, I ask the question, “Rebuilding what, where and how?”
Many yearn for the nostalgia of the old coastline, with its cottages, piers and amusement parks. Sentimental people will want to rebuild the old communities exactly as they were. Politicians will pander to those desires. With sufficient political pressure, Congress will authorize billions of dollars to rebuild shoreline housing. Climate Change deniers will deem Superstorm Sandy an anomaly, unrelated to human-caused degradation of the Earth’s atmosphere. With reconstruction funds available, the profit motive will once again try to dominate legitimate environmental concerns.
In my 2011 Atlantis articles, I advocated for an apolitical, environment-first approach to disaster recovery. By then, it was too late to bring rational thinking to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Soon after Superstorm Sandy is the best time to discuss our long-term response and recovery plans. Stakeholders include homeowners, local, state and federal governments, plus all U.S. citizens. After all, we the taxpayers will ultimately pay most of the bill for both cleanup and rebuilding. Here I propose a new solution for rebuilding residential properties most vulnerable to mid-Atlantic storm surge.
First, we need a complete review of the federal flood insurance program for the affected area. No one in the new floodplain should rebuild under existing flood insurance programs. The flood maps were inadequate and the potential for future destruction in those areas is high. If anyone rebuilds in a Sandy-flooded area, it should be at his or her own expense and risk, not at the risk of all.
Second, new flood maps must include more than the area flooded by Superstorm Sandy. In 2012, most of what remained of the Greenland ice cap melted away. In the next few years, both polar ice caps may be gone. New flood maps for the mid-Atlantic region should include the consequent sea level rise. With a realistic flood map, we can begin the redevelopment of residential properties not deemed in imminent peril.
Third, we need to demand new structures that make sense to build and insure. As the beaches of New Jersey now show us, rebuilding with wood-frame houses is out of the question. Built on piles, a Brad Pitt House is still vulnerable to high winds. The best way to rebuild would be with rapidly relocatable or mobile housing. Although new standards for durability, insulation and storm worthiness would be necessary, the following is what I propose.
As in Paris under Napoleon, authorities would need to cut new access roads wide enough for manufactured homes to travel inland. Similar to those in an RV A residential lot would feature a concrete pad to support the home and utility service connections. The utilities would need to withstand wind, rain and salt-water immersion. To avoid the threat of fire, both natural gas and electrical services should have smart meters that feature remote shut-off capabilities. The actual housing could be of several different types.
For the most vulnerable lots, housing should be highly mobile. In most cases, a Class-A motorhome would suffice. Likewise, a fifth-wheel motorhome would work on vulnerable lots, but a pickup truck capable of towing the fifth wheel would have to be on scene. Monthly road tests should be required. If a storm appeared, the owner could disconnect from the water, gas and electric in less than an hour. Within two hours, the mobile summer cottage could be well inland and out of harm’s way.
For those who want a more substantial dwelling, an axle and wheel-mounted manufactured home would suffice. The recreational vehicle (RV) industry designates many such dwellings as “park models”. Since these dwellings would move only in the event of an emergency, attention to hitch-type and wheel/tire durability would be essential. If planned properly, any over-the-road tractor could tow these manufactured homes to safety. For these larger units, turning radius, ground clearance and inland storage locations would be important. In case of emergency, regional plans for towing these larger units to safety would need to be in place.
The alternative to creating mobile seaside villages would be to rebuild with vulnerable permanent structures or forgo rebuilding entirely. During the recent presidential campaign, both sides talked about bringing manufacturing jobs back to America. The best way to do so is by upgrading the factory-built home and RV industries. In the U.S., RV's and manufactured homes have no foreign competition. To redevelop mid-Atlantic shoreline housing with anything but relocatable dwellings and weather-resistant infrastructure would be sheer folly.