By: David A. Smith 1 All of us hate being played for suckers, even more when we know it will work, as revealed in this article from the New York Times (September 5, 2013), tempers can run high: 2 Surf City, NJ. Anchor Produce Market 3 sells homemade mozzarella, its own fresh salsa and what many regulars swear is the best sweet corn on Long Beach Island.
Want to buy some? Sign the easement But, a sign on the counter declares, it will not sell anything to the owners of 63 Long Beach Boulevard, 7 Coast Avenue, 12 Sea View Drive South or 34 other nearby oceanfront properties. The stretch of towns affected by Sandy Those owners have refused to grant easements to allow the federal government to build a massive dune along a 50-mile stretch of the Jersey Shore.
Without the protective ridge of sand, engineers predict it is only a matter of time before homes, neighborhoods, even entire communities are wiped out by rising seas Note tacit presumption of global warming, when in fact this has nothing to do with climate change Ed. a reality brought into stark relief by the devastation from Hurricane Sandy. Over the last half-century, an ever-richer world has built ever-larger and more elaborate homes and cities in low -lying coastal areas prone to sea surges 4 , whether caused by Hurricane Katrina 5 or merely by a superstorm.
Some owners think the pristine views are so valuable and desirable and they are magnificent they re worth risking their home for: Ken Burkhardt, a Long Beach Township resident who has refused to give an easement 6 , said, It s my business whether I sign it or not.. It s my business whether I sign it or not. There s the crux.
Is it? The answer is far from clear, though most people in the argument think it is. Do you feel safe?
1. What are the equities here? People love living near water, both for its use (swimming, boating) and even more so for its vistas and yet, the more we build adjacent to water, the greater the disaster risk to cities and the built environment 7 .
Moreover, by the time a natural disaster barrels our way, it s basically too late to save the private property only preventive infrastructure can reduce that risk. Hence homeowners who choose to live in low-lying areas 8 need mandatory flood insurance 9 if they intend to mortgage or sell their houses. Eventually, the installed base of homeowners demands group protection, in the form of levees or breakwaters.
What happens when some of the levees fail The Gloucester breakwater But these work, obviously, only if they cover the shoreline continuously, and while a breakwater can be built in public property (offshore waters), a beach dune will intrude on private property. A contentious stretch of Long Beach Boulevard, with white lines denoting private property Yet there is a clear and present danger: The corps had completed some dunes before Sandy hit, but stopped when they could not get enough easements . Where there were dunes, the storm left relatively minor damage.
Where there were not, homes even many seemingly safely inland were destroyed. There s also the problem of common-benefit: In some areas, homes with dunes were damaged because of gaps left by neighbors without them . In Surf City, for example, the corps had built dunes along all but two blocks of oceanfront, where six homeowners would not grant easements.
The storm surge flooded the neighborhood. (Could the dune-acceding neighbors sue the dune-blocking neighbors for damages? It s an intriguing case that I would not like to defend if I were the holdout property owner.) I d sure like to sue somebody over this In general, a property owner can own a stretch of beach, even if that ownership allows the public to walk the beach; owners can have private title to all land above the normal tide s high-water mark (basically, where the tan sand stops in the above photo). If the dunes are to be raised, the new sand will be on private owners property, and it will impact their ocean views.
The Army Corps of Engineers has built high dunes in much of Surf City, N.J., but resistance from some homeowners has left a section with limited protection from storm surges. Even worse than the free-rider problem is the missing-link problem a wall is largely useless if it has a gap big enough to flood a tidal wave through. Give us a gap and we ll scour a bay The dune project, part of a $1 billion project to protect the state s shoreline Funded, we note, with Federal money: has been discussed for more than a decade, and would build or raise existing dunes to 22 feet, and add about 200 feet of beach between homes and the ocean.
The Army Corps of Engineers 10 would maintain the dunes , but the land would remain the property of the individual owners. As the residents of Long Beach are gaining risk-mitigation infrastructure at no cost to them, in purely economic-expectation terms, their property will be more valuable after the dunes than before but will that compensate them for their change of scenery? These views belong to us property owners, not you drivers-by In the fight about Malibu beach access 11 , some of the same people who want an uncluttered beach view for themselves build houses that block the beach views from everyone even fifty feet landward of them.
Something about beaches drives people nuts 12 , doesn t it? Beaches being linear, sinuous rills of border between water and land, they are infinitely accessible along their length, but inaccessible from landward unless they cross a bit of property that often belongs to a private owner. You can see the beach, you just can t reach it 13 2.
What moves the observant herd 14 to agree to collective defense? Mike Nichols, the owner of Anchor Produce, considers himself super lucky because the storm last October washed four feet of sand into his home in nearby North Beach but did not destroy it. People under-rate low-probability catastrophic until they have a narrow escape, when suddenly they get religion: Sandy prompted many homeowners to drop their opposition to the dunes.
People came down to look at their houses after the storm and said, Where do we sign? Peter Hartney, a councilman in Surf City, said. Where do we sign?
More striking, though, was how many people still refused. The communitarian Times gives short shrift to the holdouts objections, so allow me to list what might be plausible legitimate reasons against the easement: Continued tomorrow in Part 2. References ^ David A.
Smith (www.affordablehousinginstitute.org) ^ New York Times (September 5, 2013), tempers can run high: (www.nytimes.com) ^ Anchor Produce Market (www.anchorproducemarket.com) ^ -lying coastal areas prone to sea surges (affordablehousinginstitute.org) ^ caused by Hurricane Katrina (affordablehousinginstitute.org) ^ who has refused to give an easement (wobm.com) ^ the greater the disaster risk to cities and the built environment (www.affordablehousinginstitute.org) ^ low-lying areas (affordablehousinginstitute.org) ^ mandatory flood insurance (affordablehousinginstitute.org) ^ Army Corps of Engineers (www.usace.army.mil) ^ Malibu beach access (affordablehousinginstitute.org) ^ Something about beaches drives people nuts (affordablehousinginstitute.org) ^ you just can t reach it (affordablehousinginstitute.org) ^ the observant herd (affordablehousinginstitute.org)