Editorial, Opinion

EDIT: New York Gov. proposes undeveloped coastline as solution to future hurricane dangers

In the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has maintained that New York needs to reconsider the way it develops its coastlines. He has proposed that instead of rebuilding a number of neighborhoods along the sea, New York should spend $400 million to purchase homes wrecked by the hurricane and have them demolished, according to The New York Times Sunday. The state will then preserve the flood-prone land as undeveloped coastline.

Under the purchase program, which federal officials have yet to approve, those with homes significantly damaged by the storm and floods would be offered the pre-storm value of their houses for the purpose of relocation assistance. Residents of more vulnerable areas would be offered a bonus to sell their homes. Additionally, communities in highly flood-prone areas will be offered a double-bonus if an entire block of homeowners agrees to leave, all according to the Times.

As for the land, Cuomo would have that it would never be built on again. The Times reported that some areas would be converted into dunes, wetlands or other natural buffers that would help protect coastal communities from ferocious storms. Other land could be used for public parkland.

The idea, according to The Times, is the result of debate between lawmakers, disaster experts and New York residents over what steps should be taken to prepare and strengthen the state for and against extreme weather. There is little doubt surrounding the argument that storms like Hurricane Sandy will continue to visit the coastlines of New York and its surrounding states. Aftermath of such storms is expected to be as bad if not worse as what occurred in October. It seems sensible, safe and financially sound to get homes off of coastlines.

But is the plan plausible — are de-population and relocation efforts the answer to the continuing threats of climate change? The proposal, which the Times stated is the most ambitious ever undertaken by the state of New York — not only in scale but in how Cuomo would be using the money to begin reshaping coastal land use — will not be easy to implement. For one, it is difficult to relocate an entire town, especially in a state like New York, the coastal areas of which are relatively highly populated.

And it will be more difficult if New York’s seaside communities are not on board. Those who reside in flood-prone areas will likely be torn over the decision to stay or go. Many towns by the sea are historically and culturally beach towns — relocation means losing a collective identity and a heritage of seaside life. People like living near or on the beach; doing so can signify status, leisure or tradition.

On the other hand, moving means forgoing the possibility of future devastation.

Perhaps the Cuomo administration should instead channel the $400 million budget into rebuilding seaside homes to make them more damage-proof. Storms like Hurricane Sandy still occur infrequently. Displacing communities might be less feasible than simply rebuilding homes to better protect residents from storms.  And the seaside culture would live on. New Orleans continues to thrive. There is no reason New York’s beach towns cannot adapt to do the same.


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