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And the walls came down

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
September 30, 2005


With the news of failed levees in New Orleans, and the failure of federal planning in the face of extreme weather, at the forefront of national consciousness, the coastal communities would be well served to look well beyond the status quo of ecological indifference and anthropocentric bravado.

The tragedy of New Orleans is not what happened in the days proceeding Hurricane Katrina, the tragedy lies in the hundred years of public policy that enabled the catastrophic destruction of the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River Delta.

Government failed when it allowed the coastal wetlands to be destroyed. Government failed by building the levees, Government failed when it allowed homes and hospitals to be built below sea level, so close to the sea. Government also failed by subsidizing the development of the Louisiana coast beyond ecological sustainability.

How the insurance industry reacts to this economic hit may prove the end of reckless coastal development, at least along the Gulf Coast. This is a good thing. Long-term weather predictions forecast increased hurricane activity in and around the Caribbean. It makes no economic sense to continue investing in the continue landfills of Louisiana.

For weeks, we have been hearing about how the Big Government failed to build the levees to withstand the perfect storm. Although a study, recently completed, predicted what happen in the case of a Class 5, everyone was caught unaware by a massive atmospherical event, although most expected it.

In the melee of the storm, it matters little if human generated global warming influences it. Nature is not open for debate. The planet in all its mystery will not be deterred by several feet of concrete and piles of rock and dirt. I bet the people sitting on rooftops, displacement shelters, and now temporary housing, have had a great deal of time to considered the wisdom of inhabiting such a precarious position.

While I'm on the subject of precarious positions, the Army Corp of Engineers were in Encinitas recently to report on their report regarding requests from bluff top property owners to armor the coast. Being the Army Corp of Engineers, as expected ecology is playing little to no role in their considerations to hold back the sea.

The preferred alternative selected by the project is comprised of notch fills and sand replenishment Notch fills are a clever way of saying lower bluff seawalls. The dredging and filling of beaches, as proposed would need to be repeated every five years. Their prime purpose is to protect private property. This project is a subsidy for private property protection with public tax dollars.

The Army Corp of Engineer report does not include long term funding sources for long-term sand replenishment, nor does it acknowledge impact to recreational usage, reef biology and other environmental impact.

The way I see it, bluff top property owners are no different from the people of the Ninth Ward rescued from their roofs. Building even low seawalls, also know as notch fills, will only delay the inevitable erosion associated with the topography and geology associated with the coastal bluffs of the San Dieguito region.

The massive sand replenishment boondoggle currently proposed by the Army Corp of Engineers is in all actuality a case of government throwing good money after bad. Sea walls and beach dredging subvert nature, and as Hurricane Katrina so easily demonstrated planetary systems are beyond the foolishness of property rights and government accountability.

Coastal bluffs are constantly in the process of coming down. To build on them is always at risk. For government to enable a few to build at the cost of the many is wrong on many levels let alone the natural processes that once maintained a healthy coastal ecosystem without the help of man. Eroding bluffs are only a problem for those who build on.

People who build in ecologically unfavorable locations should be personally responsible for the property damage that results from their environmental ignorance. Groups such as the Seacoast Preservation Association are actually a collection of homeowners who want the government to pay to protect their private investments using public funds on public land.

Moreover, why wouldn't the Army Corp of Engineers want to fix the beach and bluff erosion problem? By declaring an erosion problem, the Army Corp of Engineers keep themselves employed on the public dime.

And when the current boondoggle fails to protect bluff top home that are claim by the Pacific Ocean once again the mercenary Corp of Engineers will come charging in with yet another plan to hold back the sea.

It's called planning for disaster.

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