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Hurricane Sandy relief bill clears first barrier, stirs debate

Relief funds could go towards man-made beaches and barriers around coastal cities such as Milford, Connecticut.

Marilee Caliendo, FEMA

The US House of Representatives on 15 January passed the second and third installments of a piecemeal Hurricane Sandy disaster-relief plan, adding about US$50 billion to the $9.7 billion in flood insurance funds that were authorized on 4 January.

Just a small amount of money would go to science agencies. The measure includes $136 million for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to improve weather surveillance and forecasting capabilities, and $15 million for NASA to repair facilities damaged by the storm.

The Senate is expected to consider disaster aid legislation next week.

Hurricane Sandy relief discussions had been delayed since December, as House Republicans scrambled to reach a deal on the ‘fiscal cliff’, allowing an earlier Senate-approved $60.4-billion aid measure to expire. Many fiscal conservatives resisted rushing approval of costly long-term projects as part of an emergency-relief package. In recent weeks, as the House revisited the issue, legislators carved the package into three separate bills, as disagreements mounted over which projects to fund and at what cost.

The latest agreement includes $17 billion to address immediate recovery needs and $33.5 billion for longer-term efforts — including $2.9 billion for construction projects by the Army Corps of Engineers “to reduce future flood risk”. Some scientists have expressed reservations about supporting the restoration of coastlines and, especially, arming them further with levees, seawalls and man-made beaches.

Jeffress Williams, a retired US Geological Survey coastal geologist, says that the notion that coastlines will be rebuilt in a smart way is “just not realistic thinking”. He and a growing number of researchers believe that such physical barriers may disrupt coastal ecosystems and ultimately fail against the rising sea levels and more severe storms projected to result from global climate change.

Others worry that including such projects in emergency legislation will circumvent opportunities for scientific input. “We should make sure we’re absolutely vetting the projects to decide with very good science where it will work, where it won’t work,” says geologist Robert Young, who directs the programme for the study of developed shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.


  1. Report this comment

    Meme MIne said:

    Speaking as a former believer I’d support Nature if they renounced the climate change mistake and exaggeration.
    Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets ruled by corporations and trustworthy politicians.

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    Jean SmilingCoyote said:

    Most elected officials and affected residents, having no formal education in the relevant Earth Sciences subjects, just want everything rebuilt to the status quo ante , following much past behavior. Even without global warming and sea level rise, the only sensible response is to downzone the region affected by storm surge and associated river flooding, with individuals and neighborhoods being relocated on higher ground inland as and where they wish, and where it’s feasible. Ownership of these downzoned, no-rebuild areas should be transferred to some natural preserve. All providers of insurance, loans, and emergency aid should cooperate to facilitate these relocations. Efforts must be made to build new strong economies. Repeat victimization & rebuilding adds excessive demand to the natural resources used, pushing prices up for all. Wealthy self-insured victims are not exempt from this cycle. Ian McHarg, author of “Design With Nature,” basically advocated downzoning 50 years ago after “The Great Atlantic Storm.” He had little effect. I’ve written to several elected officials offering to work (for pay, please!) at this downzoning, relocation, and better rebuilding, with no responses. If such storms happened often enough, even poorly educated people would get the message. An example from Oklahoma might be that if children in K-8 grades get the proper formal education, they would teach their parents.

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