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12 September 2013

Come on now. Let up on the Jersey Shore Seaside pier is on fire, word is it has just collapsed. This is one of the last few amusement piers that made it through Sandy, and another childhood icon of a place. So sad.
Absolutely heartbreaking. They've been through so much already! It's just not fair.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 12 September | 17:32
What was the cause, do they know?
posted by Melismata 13 September | 06:43
Mark my words, within 20 years the Shore will be abandoned and left to civic control cause it will be too risky to live near the ocean.
posted by The Whelk 13 September | 09:49
The fire apparetly started in a frozen custard shop.

Also, I think the Whelk is probably right. I think it was the New Yorker that ran a long and fascinating story recently on NJ coastal erosion.
posted by bearwife 13 September | 12:23
I don't think the Whelk is right on this one, sadly for the beach and those who love it. There is a terrible irony here - it is risky to live by the ocean (though this fire had nothing to do with the risks of the ocean, it was just a dumb old fire), but the beach is (a) so pleasant and (b) so profitable that even if we could guarantee that all structures on every mile of beachfront would be wiped out every 10 years, we would still see massive development taking place all along the beach to get while the gettin's good. Erosion and hurricanes are a risk, but are highly localized in their impact. It still makes financial sense to invest on the beachfront, and nothing short of a regional master plan will reduce, constrain, or curtail that investment.

People won't just abandon it. The past 50 years we have seen that nothing - not pollution, overcrowding, expense, disasters, even MTV - will convince people to abandon the Shore. Ocean City had some terrible erosion last year - they've spent millions to backfill the beaches with new sand once again. It's worth it because of the many many more millions the city will make in tourism.

THank you for noting that it was 'frozen custard' shop. The major media keep calling it an "ice cream shop," which just shows they have no familiarity with the area they're covering.
posted by Miko 13 September | 22:31
≡ Click to see image ≡
posted by jouke 14 September | 01:20
As a Dutchman I have a different perspective on this. It is definitely possible to prevent flooding from storms. But it seems that in the US the political will just isn't there to create the required infrastructure.
posted by jouke 14 September | 01:30
Why should we spend all that money on infrastructure when it's so much easier to deny that there's a problem in the first place?
posted by octothorpe 14 September | 08:27
It is definitely possible to prevent flooding from storms.

Perhaps, but we have an immensity of scale here that it may be hard to comprehend in Dutch terms, and also cannot act as a united body because each state has its own planning process and constraints. The Netherlands is one nation with about 450 miles of coastline, in macro measure; New Jersey and New York together have 270 miles themselves alone, plus additional inland coastline, and we're just one part of the hurricane zone. Meanwhile, New Jersey has a lot more marshland, more tidal rivers and more major rivers and tributaries due to the variation in land height.

Of course, the states are overdeveloped and over-paved, meaning that runoff/absorption is a problem too, and that's within planning control. However, I think there is a certain reality to the fact that with climate change and increasing weather extremity and instability, we are not going to be able to plan for total flood control.
posted by Miko 14 September | 10:37
Yeah, we have a similar problem in Australia, exacerbated by having a population that almost entirely lives along the coastline. This is made even more complicated because the vast majority of our flooding issues don't come from the ocean, they come from inland, where there is no issue with overdevelopment or paving, but the extremes of our weather (a land of bush fires and flooding rains etc) mean that enormous areas of the country end up flooded on a semi-regular basis. The root cause of the problem, in my view, is that settlements originally grew up along rivers and in areas where the land was suitable for agriculture - factors which, by their very nature, make them susceptible to flooding. With the benefit of hindsight, many towns and cities should never have been built where they are. The geology alone makes comparison between countries like The Netherlands with 451 km of coastline, the USA with 19,924 and Australia with 25,760 meaningless in terms of the size of the challenge in flood-proofing even those areas that are heavily populated. Factor in the political issues (we have federal, state and local governments with overlapping responsibility for managing this) and the problem becomes insurmountable in all but a few areas where there is both dense population and extreme risk of flooding. Given the challenges in maintaining even basic infrastructure in a country this size, the idea of spending hundreds of billions of dollars to prevent something that may happen (statistically) once every 100 years is laughable.
posted by dg 14 September | 16:42
With the benefit of hindsight, many towns and cities should never have been built where they are.

This is really true here too, but the economic incentive has historically been so great and continue to be - the original infrastructural advantages of living near a transhipping port, moving cargo around, fishing, and mounting defense have today been replaced by the profit-making advantages of tourism and recreation. Given any single local investment in building, there is much more incentive than there is risk.
posted by Miko 15 September | 09:30
miko and dg I don't agree with you two.

Of course the first thing you do is analyse which parts are too valuable to let them flood.
Let's say that Manhattan is one of those parts. Or the city of New Orleans. One can prevent those parts from flooding and designate other areas as more acceptable to a higher risk of flooding.
To give you an example: the provinces of North-Holland and South-Holland are defended against flooding from the sea to the risk of once every 10.000 years. On the other hand the less populated provinces of Zeeland, Friesland and Groningen are defended against 4.000 year floods. And the island in the Wadden Sea are only defended against 2.000 year floods from the sea.
So defending against something that happens every 100 years doesn't sound laughable to me at all.
And while it is true that our coast line is smaller our population is much smaller than the US as well.
Federal, state and local government levels are governmental issues all over the world. If it's important enough you cut through that.
dg you mention flood threats that come from within. The NL being the 'mouth' of the Rhine delta we have to deal with both kind of threats. We have areas (called 'uiterwaarden') that are designated to be flooded when required. And other areas are defended against inland flooding to the level of every 1250 years.

Look, I understand that every society makes its own choices about what they find important. Let's say because you want 'small government'. But in the Netherlands we found it important not to get flooded and we had the political will to prevent that. And it took decades and billions to realise, make no mistake.

To give you an example: Dutch engineers pointed out that Manhattan was at risk years before hurricane Sandy flooded it. So it's not an unforeseable act of god.
But if a society doesn't want to prevent that, that's your choice. That's my point.

I just wanted to give you a different perspective. If you're not open to that that's ok. I'm not going to belabour my point further.
posted by jouke 15 September | 11:25
There are no rules that you have to agree! I don't think it's fair to paint a decision not to provide absolute flood-proofing to areas as a choice that modern society has made, though. The decision on where to locate a new settlement that turned into a town that turned into a city was made up to 200 years ago with no concept of what it would grow into and little or no information about the flood risks involved. Where an enormous amount of benefit could have been gained in this area would have been not to allow development to proceed to the point where enormous areas of land have no flood storage capacity. It's at least fifty years too late for that, though. I may be wrong, but I suspect that you overestimate the capacity of our population to pay for the sort of civil works that would be required to flood-proof even one city here. The city I live in covers 1,400 sq km, has a population of just over 500k and, when canals and rivers are included, has close to twice the coastline of the entire Netherlands. Over the past couple of decades, a huge amount of work had been done to manage the area's greatest flood risk, which comes not from the ocean, but from the mountains. Dams originally built only for storing drinking water have been doubled and tripled in size to build flood storage, weirs and gates have been built to control and slow the flow of water toward the ocean and new development must be above the 'once in a hundred years' flood level. But that still leaves vast developed areas at risk with no feasible solution. In some areas, there simply is no solution because they are areas that nature has used for millennia as flood storage and we stupid humans went and built houses on it. The cost to re-locate thousands of families in each of maybe hundreds of locations? Unimaginable.

In principle, though, I don't think you're wrong in that society, taken over a long time-frame, has decided to take the risk. They've done so by allowing intensive development in ridiculously innapropriate areas over and over again. The result is a country with a high risk of flooding and a tax base that's far too small to ever be able to do anything about it on a broad scale.
posted by dg 16 September | 04:14
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