Thursday, July 07, 2016

At a Cape Cod Landmark, a Strategic Retreat from the Ocean - The New York Times

Linda and Tony Cannata of Mashpee, Mass., on Herring Cove Beach near a collapsed section of parking lot last week. (Credit: M. Scott Brauer for The New York Times) Click to Enlarge.
It’s a nightmare,” said Mary-Jo Avellar, 70, Provincetown moderator and a pastry chef, who was sitting on the sand with a crossword puzzle on a recent sunny afternoon, gesturing to several feet of exposed revetment between the flat surface of the parking lot and the sand below.  “This beach used to be pretty flat.  It’s been scoured out.”

The result here at the Cape Cod National Seashore raises a practical dilemma in a setting meant to be a place to escape:  how to react to rising seas and eroding coastlines as climate change looms for coastal communities across the nation.  The decision here was to demolish the parking lot and construct a new one 125 feet behind it, allowing for a restored shoreline in front of it.

“We’re retreating,” said George E. Price Jr., the superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore, which is run by the National Park Service.  Other facilities at the beach have already been rebuilt farther back from the water.

In many parts of the country, like New York, New Jersey and New Orleans, property-damaging storms, tidal surges and floods have been met with the urge to shore up and rebuild.  Experts say the project at Herring Cove is a fairly rare example of the opposite approach, called “managed retreat,” which involves moving away from the coastline.  Mr. Price and many who use the beach here do not want to fight coastal change; they simply want to adapt to it.

“It reflects a sound planning approach that is regrettably uncommon so far,” said Michael B. Gerrard, a professor at Columbia Law School and the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law there.

“As sea-level rise advances,” Mr. Gerrard added, the concept of managed retreat is “going to become increasingly important in large parts of the country.”

Managed retreat comes in many forms, in addition to the physical movement of infrastructure: buyback programs, in which a government purchases vulnerable properties from private owners, or bans on new construction or hard armoring of the coast in areas susceptible to flooding or storm damage.  But it is a wrenching decision, especially when private property is involved, and is politically difficult to carry out, or even to suggest.  That makes the project at Herring Cove, and others on Cape Cod and around the country, all the more unusual.
The majority of the nation’s coasts are retreating, said Rob Thieler, a coastal geologist for the United States Geological Survey who is based in Woods Hole, Mass., and Cape Cod is home to vexing areas of erosion like Herring Cove.  It is difficult, Mr. Thieler said, to know whether individual problems with coastal erosion result from sea-level rise due to climate change, natural environmental fluctuations or a series of damaging storms over the last few years, but this much is known:

“Given the forecast of future sea level rise over the next century and beyond, every problem that we have along the coast right now will only increase,” Mr. Thieler said.  “That, I think, ties back to why managed retreat, in places where you can employ it, is a good option.”

Read more at At a Cape Cod Landmark, a Strategic Retreat from the Ocean

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