Published December 16th, 1996 by Wade Graham

OUR FAR-FLUNG CORRESPONDENTS about beach erosion, the Army Corps of Engineers, and hurricanes…. Tells about Topsail Island, North Carolina, which is 26 miles long but no more than a few hundred yards wide… Tells about “beach renourishmem projects”, a program that a growing number of critics have come to see as tantamount to money being poured into the sea… Tells about the Army Corps of Engineers “Newjerseyization” of coastal beaches… Coastal geologists assert that, while the construction of hardened structures may save buildings, it actually accelerates beach erosion, bringing about the gradual disappearance of the natural resource that inspired people to build there in the first place. New Jersey was the first state to undertake intensive development and fortification of its beaches, beginning with the town of Cape May. Throughout the nineteenth century, residents of the fashionable resort kept their distance from the sea, building well behind the dunes. In 1911, boat owners convinced the federal government to stabilize the inlet to Cape May Harbor to the north. The harbor jetties interrupted the natural flow of sand to the southerly beaches, prompting the town to build groins to catch what little flow was left…. Down the same path went Ocean City, Atlantic City, Asbury Park, and so on, until fifty percent of New Jersey’s once famously wide strands had been reduced to rubble: mile anfter mile of seawalls facing angry waves and the wrecks of previously-built structures. Newjerseyization is well under way in other states: 27% of Georgia’s, 70% of Virginia’s, and almost 100% of new Hampshire’s tiny but beautiful coast. Even on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, which is economically dependent on beaches, nearly a quarter of the sandy beaches have deteriorated or disappeared as a result of some seven decades of beach construction…. Once a beech has been “engineered,” it is, in effect, prohibited from responding to storm waves by flattening and becomes progressively steeper, thus increasing destructive wave energy instead of absorbing it. As Orrin H. Pilkey, a Duke University geologist, observed, “seawalls destroy beaches, period.” … Over the past 45 years, more than 200 million cubic yards of sand has gone to renourish American beaches. Sand is expensive–as much as five dollars per cubic yard–and the cost of a new beach can run to about $2 million per square mile. In a typical corps project, 65% of the cost is borne by federal taxpayers… As geologists point out, renourishment effectively institutionalizes erosion: once you have done it, you must do it again–and then again–since renourished beaches tend to wash away faster than originals do…

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