Coastal growth con­tin­ues de­spite past de­struc­tion

The Republican Herald - - NEWS - By JEFF DONN

Ris­ing sea lev­els and fierce storms have failed to stop re­lent­less pop­u­la­tion growth along U.S. coasts in re­cent years, a new Associated Press anal­y­sis shows. The lat­est pun­ish­ing hur­ri­canes scored bull’s-eyes on two of the coun­try’s fastest grow­ing re­gions: coastal Texas around Hous­ton and re­sort ar­eas of south­west Florida.

Noth­ing seems to curb Amer­ica’s ap­petite for life near the sea, es­pe­cially in the warmer cli­mates of the South. Coastal de­vel­op­ment de­stroys nat­u­ral bar­ri­ers such as is­lands and wet­lands, pro­motes ero­sion and flood­ing, and po­si­tions more build­ings and peo­ple in the path of fu­ture de­struc­tion, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers and pol­icy ad­vis­ers who study hur­ri­canes.

“His­tory gives us a les­son, but we don’t al­ways learn from it,” Graham Tobin, a disas­ter re­searcher at the Univer­sity of South Florida in Tampa, said.

That city took a glanc­ing hit from Hur­ri­cane Irma — one of the most in­tense U.S. hur­ri­canes in years — but suf­fered less flood­ing and dam­age than some other parts of the state.

In 2005, coastal com­mu­ni­ties took heed of more than 1,800 deaths and $108 bil­lion in da­m­ages from Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, one of the worst dis­as­ters in U.S. his­tory. Images of New Or­leans un­der wa­ter elicited solemn res­o­lu­tions that such a thing should never hap­pen again — un­til Su­per­storm Sandy in­un­dated lower Man­hat­tan in 2012. Last year, Hur­ri­cane Matthew spread more deaths, flood­ing and black­outs across Florida, Georgia and the Caroli­nas. From 2010-16, ma­jor hur­ri­canes and trop­i­cal storms are blamed for more than 280 deaths and $100 bil­lion in da­m­ages, ac­cord­ing to data from the fed­eral Na­tional Cen­ters for En­vi­ron­men­tal In­for­ma­tion.

Har­vey, an­other his­tor­i­cally big hur­ri­cane, flooded sec­tions of Hous­ton in re­cent weeks. Four coun­ties around Hous­ton, where growth has been buoyed by the oil busi­ness, took the full force of the storm. The pop­u­la­tion of those coun­ties ex­panded by 12 per­cent from 2010 to 2016, to a to­tal of 5.3 mil­lion peo­ple, the AP anal­y­sis shows.

Na­tion­ally, coast­line coun­ties grew an av­er­age of 5.6 per­cent since 2010, while in­land coun­ties gained just 4 per­cent. This re­cent trend tracks with decades of de­vel­op­ment along U.S. coasts.

De­bris sur­rounds a de­stroyed struc­ture in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Irma on Sept. 13 in Big Pine Key, Fla. Ris­ing sea lev­els and fierce storms have failed to stop re­lent­less pop­u­la­tion growth along U.S. coasts in re­cent years, a new Associated Press anal­y­sis shows.

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