Thesis Update (Closing)
By: Jonathan Smith
(The following is a continuation from 4/17/13 Blog Post. Continue from there for further clarification)
A close look must be taken into existing structures and developments on these crucial barrier islands in order to appropriately plan for their future. Rather than trying to pinpoint a reason or turning point in which these islands began developing inappropriately, the situation must be looked at differently. Permanently residing on these islands to begin with was inappropriate due their unstable and constantly changing nature. Their changing cycles and nature can make entire beaches disappear in short amounts of time. This is how inlets are created. Sea levels rise, which lead to storms eroding land. This eroding land moves the foundation of these unstable islands seaward, accelerating sea level rise (Ames, Culver, & Mallinson 2011). Through the early 1950’s, North Carolina was developing Highway 12 to span along its coast and connect the barrier islands. Various bridges and structures were created to traverse the inlets that were created from storm surge and hurricanes. These same bridges have cost North Carolina Tax payers countless of dollars. Highway 12 has been moved five times since the 1950’s, and is currently as far westward as possible in some areas. These renovations, and temporary improvements, quickly became damaged and suffered structural failures due to erosion of the unstable islands (Ames, Culver, & Mallinson 2011). The highway continues to be nurtured and imposing sea levels rise towards the shore.
The trend of housing development along this highway has unfortunately followed a fate similar to Highway 12. Many of the houses built in the area failed to adapt to this environment and were lost in storms. Now, building codes are in place; that require structures to be built on elevated piers to help alleviate some of the damage. This is still just a temporary solution. Studies have shown that although damage has been reduced, and structures have prevailed longer due to elevated piers, they inevitably will be at risk under current conditions (Brody, Highfield, & Kang, 2011). These developments sprouted some of the small tourist towns that line the North Carolina barrier islands. Most of the houses in this coastal area are only inhabited seasonally, but the cities still contribute to over 80% of North Carolina’s gross tourism income. Their significance cannot but underestimated in regards to the state’s economy. Therefore, abandoning the area is will not be the solution.
A study was done by ICE-Civil Engineering on how Dutch engineers and planners have learned to coexist with rising sea levels. Various findings throughout their study are applicable to the North Carolina’s coastal area. The study shows how most of the Netherland’s economy and population exist below sea level. This made the problem something they could not prolong, but rather live with. Many areas have been labeled as cost inefficient to try and protect, and subsequently abandoned. Other areas have more passive solutions where this is not possible. Examples of this include flexible planning of developments; innovative studies to determine long-term feasibility; redistribution of dam water; and adaptation in lifestyle (Schuetze, 05 NOV 2012). The key things that serve as valuable lessons for North Carolina are the flexible planning, innovative technologies, and long term feasibility reports. Although simple in basis, these key components are often overlooked.
A passive solution is in order for North Carolina’s coast and maybe other areas of the Eastern United States. Since most of the houses are only occupied seasonally and its small cities are so intertwined with tourism, it seems only logical to embrace this in the solution. This area must be developed under a master plan that provides necessary considerations for not only the environment in question, but also the society in which it is altering. New theories are being derived that strike profound ideas in the rethinking of societal planning on the coast. One plan in particular speaks to the notion of reallocating populations into less dense, less invasive, and less permanent locations along the islands. This extends the style of living to something similar as on the Ocracoke Island at the southern tip of North Carolina’s coast. These people lived, and some still do, via dirt roads and minimal huts. They now even utilize passive solar technologies (Janin & Mandia, 2012). These components and more are necessary in order for the successful development of these fragile, coastal islands.
I propose a solution that involves re-masterplanning the lower portion of the North Carolina coast. This area is on the most permanent of soils, and less prone to damages than the Northern area. The master planning of the islands would coincide with the removal of Highway 12. This notion, no matter how drastic it may seem, has been suggested by past studies, but shot down due to extremism. If the highway was replaced by a system of ferries, similar to that in which portions of North Carolina already rely on, the constant spending on fixes would be eliminated. The income of lowered populations would be offset by developments on headland beaches; which do not consist of islands. These beaches are more permanently attached to the continental shelf and are less prone to erosion. A series of housing developments should put in place with long term parking units, which could allow for ferry travel to the various barrier islands. The individuals traveling to the islands then would use traditional means of transportation in order to embark on various excursions and other cruises that already take place along the coast. This notion relies heavily on the success of eco-tourism, but is not dismissible.
In conclusion, there are a variety of paremeters North Carolina must consider when developing its coastal areas and islands. The idea of “battling” or using technology to put rising sea levels and climate change and its negative effects at bay are outdated. More passive, and sometimes extreme, solutions need to be considered in order for there to be any long term success or sustainability. Constantly moving and refortifying barriers and bridges that have proven unstable is a plan doomed for failure. More passive solutions that underline the drastic changes outline include analysis of areas in order to determine if they should be abandoned. This would along be followed by areas to be supported with new development that does not rely on unstable and eroded soil. In time this change would create a more stable, passive, less invasive, environmentally fortifying, and sustainable coast for North Carolina, and even other areas of the U.S. to develop. Only further research, and time will tell if these drastic solutions and rethinking will prove to be the solution for hundreds of years to come. One thing is for certain, that the area analyzed is constantly changing; and the only thing that can be depended on is that change is inevitable. Humans can only interfere with natural cycles of climate change for so long without paying the repercussions. The solution provided may not give an extensive backbone for developers to plan from, but it does serve as a general guideline of findings for future coastal areas to consider.
Schuetze, Christopher. "How Cities Plan to Keep the Sea at Bay in an Age of Climate Change." New York Times. 05 NOV 2012: n. Web. 28 Jan. 2013. <http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/how-cities-plan-to-keep-the-sea-at-bay-in-an-age-of-climate-change/>.
Stive, Marcel, Louise Fresco, Kabat Pavel, Parmet Bart, and Veerman Cees. "How the Dutch plan to stay dry over the next Century." ICE-Civil Engineering. 164. (2011): 114-212. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.
Janin, H., & Mandia, S. A. (2012). Rising sea levels: An introduction to cause and impact. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.
Brody, S. D., Highfield, W. E., & Kang, J. E. (2011). Rising waters: The causes and consequences of flooding in the united states. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Wilson, E., & Piper, J. (2010). Spatial planning and climate change. New York, New York: Routledge.
Pilkey, O. H., & Young, R. (2009). The rising sea. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.
Ames, D. V., Culver, S. J., & Mallinson, D. J. (2011). The battle for north carolina's coast. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press