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. Future Hurricane Disasters May Become More Costly

Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Cullowhee NC (SPX) Jun 05, 2006
As the 2006 hurricane season gets under way, nationally known hurricane impact researcher Rob Young, associate professor of geosciences at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C, says the manner in which the federal government responded to last year's hurricane disasters will make future disasters even more costly.

That's why Young, who has been conducting post-storm coastal reconnaissance for nearly 20 years, has become a vocal advocate for new federal policy that would encourage a retreat from the nation's most vulnerable sections of coastline.

In testimony to Congress in November and again in April in New Orleans as part of a select group of 40 engineers and scientists from around the world examining ways to protect the fragile wetlands of the Gulf Coast, Young proposed the creation of a Shoreline Retreat Advisory Commission.

The group would be composed of scientists and coastal managers brought together to identify vulnerable shorelines that should be removed from future federal assistance for post-storm reconstruction. Dubbed the "ShRAC," it would be patterned after the federal Base Realignment and Closing Commission that determines the fate of military bases.

"Continued federal disaster aid for rebuilding vulnerable coastal areas has cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in the last two years. Irresponsible development of vulnerable coastal areas is becoming a burden on an already overburdened federal budget, as well as an environmental disaster," said Young, who maintains the Coastal Hazards Information Clearinghouse, a Web-based resource for information about coastal hazards and detailed hazard maps of most U.S. shorelines.

"I believe that it is time to cut our ties with the most vulnerable of our nation's coastal areas," he said. "The highly vulnerable shorelines include places like North Topsail Island in my home state of North Carolina, Santa Rosa Island in Florida, and the west end of Dauphin Island in Alabama.

"The community of Waveland, Miss., has been destroyed twice in 35 years. These are all stretches of shoreline that are so unquestionably vulnerable to storm impact that they should never again receive federal tax dollars to rebuild buildings or infrastructure."

For more than 20 years, Young has conducted research on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the insurance industry through its Public Entity Risk Institute. He toured the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast on a trip funded in part by the Duke University Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines.

Young also has long advocated a new scale that would forecast with greater detail what happens when storms move on shore. While the Saffir-Simpson scale which ranks hurricanes as category one to five depending upon barometric pressure, wind speed and storm surge describes the absolute strength of a hurricane in the open ocean, it does a poor job of predicting the effect of a hurricane on the shore during landfall, he said.

Young believes such factors as coastal geomorphology, storm history and other characteristics also play a major role in how destructive a particular storm may be.

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