Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Negotiating beach nourishment benefits and costs

Jonathan Bingham is working on his Master of Science degree in Coastal and Ocean Policy at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he also received his Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences.   He has lived in Wilmington for almost a decade. Jonathan began his career project management branch at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Wilmington, NC, and quickly became involved in Federal navigation, coastal storm damage reduction, and environmental restoration projects across coastal North Carolina. His background and experience, in the sciences and involvement in complex policies and politics, ignited his interest in the coastal policy field. 

Coastal storm damage reduction project at Carolina Beach, NC undergoing its final federally funded periodic nourishment in April 2016.
Beaches – many parties have an interest in them.  Beachfront homeowners, the summertime tourist, businesses that make a living from beachgoers, outdoorsy folks, tax collectors, and even those people who bike to the beach because they’d rather not fight for parking (especially this guy right here). 

Since the 1960s, our NC beach towns have grown substantially.  Today, multi-million dollar properties fill the coastline and tourism is a cornerstone of our local and national economy. This valuable development exists in areas vulnerable to flooding and storm damage.  Because of this modern day beach-lifestyle “baggage,” someone has to pay to strategically develop and protect beach communities from storm damages.

The federal government invested in multiple programs through different federal agencies as a means to protect, reduce, and enable community development in these areas. In the 1960s, the federal government started investing in Coastal Storm Damage Reduction (AKA beach nourishment) projects to protect and reduce damages at beaches, and the communities have become highly dependent on beach nourishment projects for their livelihood. I expect a major shift in federal funding and coastal policies in the near future, as the federal government is tightening budgets and politically beginning to slip out of this costly, never-ending business.

The federal government decided to enter into the business of protecting citizens and property from flood damages in 1936 (Flood Control Act), following serious flooding on the Mississippi River in the 1920’s and 1930’s that brought the problem to the national spotlight. 

It wasn’t long before the government began protecting beach communities from the serious flooding associated with hurricanes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implements the federal government’s coastal storm damage reduction program. These pre-disaster mitigation actions are very efficient at reducing storm damages, when beach nourishment is consistently maintained. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), acting under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, fully supports preserving, protecting, developing, restoring and enhancing, the Nation's resources within the coastal zone. Later, in 1982 Congress passed the Coastal Barrier Resources Act in order to curb any further development using federal expenditures and financial assistance. This act, enforced by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), realized that the federal government has historically subsidized and encouraged development, such as federal flood insurance, on coastal barriers, resulting in threats to human life, health, and property; the loss of natural resources; and the expenditure of millions of tax dollars each year.

There’s a disconnect happening between federal agencies, and conflicting missions cloud the overall goal of the federal government. The questions at hand are: what should the federal government’s pre-disaster stake in coastal development be? Then, does the existing legislation meet the goal? I chose to look at the protection portion of a federal coastal investment policy under the Corps of Engineers, and build a recommendation that uses our current state of development, trends and projections in order to improve the program for all stakeholders involved (federal and local taxpayers, home-owners, tourists, business owners, etc.).

Coastal storm events causing billion-dollar losses and total costs associated
with the storms (2013 dollars) Source: NRC 2014
There are limits to how nourishment project costs and benefits are calculated.   This alters the degree of justification and importance reported to Congress.   On top of that, the trends indicate fiscal responsibilities are shifting away from the federal government and towards the beach communities, likely because of shifting federal budget priorities. However, because of a decrease in the Corps’ funding for coastal storm damage reduction projects, trends demonstrate that storm impact costs are rising, such as: higher losses and post-storm damage costs, and a higher percentage of federal aid to cover these costs. 

Percentage of federal aid through the years following major hurricanes
Source: Michel-Kerjan 2013
I aim to meet policy goals such as: increase the reduction of flood damages to property and infrastructure, increase coastal emergency safety and reduction in loss of life, decrease federal emergency declarations, reduce federal expenditures towards managing coastal risk, and develop an improved benefit-cost analysis, which includes real risks and actual benefits. After an alternatives analysis, I found that restructuring the Corps’ program with updated Congressional legislation would best address the issues surrounding the protection portion of a federal coastal investment policy. In seeking coastal resiliency for the future, a reduction of risk to federal taxpayers, and a true benefit-cost analysis, I saw the need to reduce the federal government’s cost-share in the CSDR program and to establish consistent federal values across multiple agencies for pre-disaster mitigation actions. These recommended actions support a reformed federal coastal investment strategy, with consistently funded and supported policies and programs, in order to lessen overall costs for all parties involved with coastal living.

National Flood Insurance Program and Land Management

Hayley Wise will graduate from the Masters of Coastal and Ocean Policy program this Spring 2016.  She comes to her capstone project with experience in private insurance and administration of the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program. 

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was introduced in 1968 after the private market failed to carry the risk associated with floods. In addition to offering affordable premiums, the NFIP was tasked with encouraging sound land use, minimizing flood losses, and guiding development away from locations threatened by flood hazards. The latter of the two is where the NFIP fails. The NFIP has become a driver in unsustainable coastal development. 

With 52% of the United States population living in a coastal county the demand for coastal development is high. Developers want to make money, and people want to live near the beach. It has caused poor decision-making, which puts property and life in danger. The NFIP uses subsidized rates to offer affordable premiums to homeowners. These rates do not allow for people to realize the real risk associated with coastal living. There is little financial risk associated with building on the coast. Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy are extreme but very realistic examples of the damages caused by poor coastal development.  The reliance on man-made structures, such as levees, dikes and sea walls, cannot be our only solution.  

It is my attempt to bring this issue to light and offer ways in which we can build a better coast. Using insurance as a tool to allow people to realize the true risk of coastal building will encourage smarter floodplain development.   In many cases there are building code regulations to reduce the potential of flood damage, however they are often not strictly enforced or only meet minimum standards. It does nothing but endanger a community and put people in harms way if building codes are lax or not enforced. 

The NFIP has a program in place, since 1990, called the Community Rating System (CRS). CRS offers premium discounts for community’s that require higher than the minimum standards for floodplain management. The program uses a class scale system to determine the discounts. Class 9 is a community that participates in the CRS but only to the lowest level. A class 1 is a community that receives the highest discount of 45% off NFIP premiums. There is only 1 community in the United States, Roseville, CA, that is a Class 1 CRS community. Many of the remaining participating communities fall between a Class 8 and 6. The CRS is a great tool but has been plagued with low participation. The CRS points can be earned through a variety of activities.  Here are just a few: 

Outreach projects
Hazard disclosure
Flood protection assistance
Promote flood insurance
Open space preservation
Higher regulatory standards
Acquisition and relocation
Floodplain management planning

There are areas around the county that are creating a more resilient coast. One great example of acquisition and relocation is the New Jersey Blue Acres Program. After Extratropical storm Sandy, the state of New Jersey began a program using Federal Disaster money to remove homes from high-risk flood areas. The goal of the program is to reduce the risk of future catastrophic floods, and to help move people out of harm’s path. As of September 2015, The Blue Acres Program had received 519 accepted offers from homeowners to purchase homes. If the homes were damaged during Sandy, the program pays the homeowner pre-damage value. 243 of the 519 homes have completed demolition. The properties will be conserved as green space for recreation and conservation. 

It is not realistic to say every house in danger should be forced to retreat from the coast, but we can create a better and more resilient coast using tools such as the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System. Instead of throwing money into losses again and again, more funding should be given to prevent losses in the first place. In the long run, this could make the program more successful than its current state. As more and more people move to the coast and as world population continues to grow it is extremely important to make change now to protect the precious coast that we all love.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Southern Flounder: Fish, family and uncertainty

Shelby White is a graduate student in the Masters of Coastal and Ocean Policy Program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. As a part of the commercial fishing industry in NC, she has witnessed first-hand the issues occurring between commercial and recreational user groups. Shelby's research focuses on the socio-economics of commercial fishermen in the Albemarle Sound, providing insight into how recent southern flounder regulations will impact the commercial fishing industry in the area. 

Historical accounts of eastern North Carolina often begin with tales of Algonquin tribes settling along the bountiful coastline and relying on the water as a means of survival. Using primitive tools to harvest species such as shad, striped bass, and herring, the Algonquin tribes and their discovery of North Carolina’s invaluable water resources paved the dreary road for what has become fisheries management.

The term “fisheries management” sounds relatively simple. Professionals and scientists within the field make sure fishes and other marine species are sustainable and viable for years to come. Since the purpose of management is to sustain fisheries that are important to both the commercial and recreational industry, it would seem that both stakeholders accept management decisions and regulations with ease. Unfortunately, fisheries management is far more contentious and convoluted, with most management decisions exacerbating conflicts between and within the commercial and recreational industry. These decisions must account for multiple stakeholders and potential user group conflicts, making fisheries management more about managing people, rather than fish. 

North Carolina’s commercial and recreational fishing industries are a source of tourism, recreation, employment, income, and food for the state. However, these two groups of fishermen often find themselves at odds with one another when it comes to fisheries management and regulation. With the decline of many fish species equally important to each industry, commercial and recreational fishermen blame each other. As a result, fishery managers struggle to make equitable and politically palatable decisions.

The recent controversy over the southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) in the Albemarle Sound of North Carolina highlights the difficulties of fisheries management. Southern flounder is one of the most prominent species found in North Carolina, with significance to both the commercial and recreational industry. The southern flounder is the most economically valuable finfish species in the commercial industry and a popular target species in the recreational industry. 

Recent stock assessments of the southern flounder place the species under “concern,” raising alarm between commercial and recreational fishermen. The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) suggests the sustainability of the species at current harvest is questionable. Other scientists, however, claim these results do not account for the mixing of stocks and suggest the data is highly uncertain. With potential for regulation, commercial and recreational fishing interests politicize the science and practice of fisheries management. Commercial fishermen question the accuracy of the stock assessment and the legality of proposed management plans, while recreational fishermen focus on extensive regulation of large mesh gill net practices.

Faced with making decisions mired in scientific uncertainty and cultural value tradeoffs, the Marine Fisheries Commission, the regulating body of NCDMF, held several meetings inviting public comment from all stakeholders. Public comment included outcries from commercial fishermen whose livelihoods were at stake, as well as recreational fishermen who believe the large mesh gill net is to blame for southern flounder declines. Despite pleas from both sides, the Marine Fisheries Commission developed regulations that affected both groups of fishermen, pitting them against each other once again.  

Evidence demonstrating flounder stock variability decline, naturally or anthropogenically caused, increases hostility between the commercial and recreational industry. It is important that the future of fisheries management account for these user group conflicts and find a way to support regulations that not only aim to bring back North Carolina’s once thriving fisheries, but that are also politically acceptable to all stakeholders. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hurricane Stats: Recent changes to 1969 Hurricane Camille

NOAA maintains North Atlantic tropical cyclone data and history in a catalogue known as HURDAT.  For a while now, scientists have reanalyzed data in the catalog in consideration of a wide range of historical information and scientific advancements to improve data quality and completeness.  

Such reanalysis projects often result in changes to a storm's "Best Track," the authoritative scientific agreement of where the storm traveled and its characteristics along the way.  These updates may change the historical or scientific significance of a storm.  For instance, reanalysis may result in a drop or increase in central pressure, an increase or decrease in storm winds, and thus the storm's Saffir-Simpson category and perceptions of the hurricane record.  

The Landsea et al (2004) reanalysis of the 1992 Hurricane Andrew provides a great example of this. 

Until the reanalysis took place, Andrew was on record as a Category 4 landfall.  Thus, between 1900 the time of publication (which can be extended to today) there were 2 category 5 hurricane landfalls in the US mainland on record (Camille and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935).  

The Andrew reanalysis project resulted in the scientific re-categorizing of the storm as a Category 5.  Overnight, the probability of a Cat 5 US mainland landfall increased by 50%!      

Recently, Kieper et al published a very captivating account of the reanalysis of the 1969 Hurricane Camille life history in BAMS.  The article mixes oral history from affected residents and scientists with considerations of virtues and limitations of historical data collection methods. 

Hurricane Camille has long fascinated scientists and the meteorologically inclined.  The storm's intensity increased remarkably rapidly and caused widespread devastation.  It has long been considered the strongest storm to make landfall.

However, the reanalysis project resulted in adjustments demoting Hurricane Camille's first place status as strongest to affect the US.  The reanalysis resulted in downgrading the storm's peak intensity of 165 knts to 150 knts and scientists deepened historical central pressure data from 909mb to 900mb.  
Those interested can find several other adjustments to the historical record in the fascinating article.  

When data is rare such as, the case with hurricane events, changing understandings of the past and thus, expectations for the future, is a paramount difficulty.    

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Pointy End of Hook: Fisheries Policy and the Importance of At-Sea Enforcement

Eric Quigley is a graduate student in the Coastal and Ocean Policy Program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.  He graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2006 with a BS in Management.  Currently, he is an active duty Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard with six years of at-sea experience aboard three ships enforcing Federal and multi-national laws and treaties including, leading approximately 120 fisheries enforcement vessel boardings in the Gulf of Mexico and Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

Illegal incursions in the United States Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) increased by 13% from 2014-2015.  The increase reflects a general trend over recent years.  The continued illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing in US waters have led the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and the US President to encourage development of new frameworks to improve effective management these resources.  A common ethical perspective holds that despite the manner by which a fish is caught (legal or illegal), once brought to shore fishermen should bring the animal to market for consumption.

The question then arises, how does society, or even just the US, curb illegal fishing while bringing illegally caught fish to market remains an acceptable practice?

US Exclusive Economic Zones
The Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976 established an EEZ extending 200 nautical miles from the coast of the United States and its territories- an area encompassing approximately 3.4 million square nautical miles.  Congress enacted the legislation in response to negative impacts on the U.S. economy and U.S. fishing fleet financial interests by foreign fishing vessels exploiting fish stocks in close proximity to the U.S.  In 1997 Congress amended The Act to include fish stock rebuilding and sustainability mandates as policy goals; and it reauthorized The Act in 2007.

The ability to effectively enforce the related laws, rules, and regulations of a policy is critical to policy success.  Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) implements the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the U.S. Coast Guard enforces the laws resulting from the Act.  That is, the Coast Guard enforces the sovereignty of the US EEZ, which in turn, supports NOAA’s goals of economic prosperity and food security through ocean biological sustainability. 

However, fisheries enforcement is only one of 11 Coast Guard statutory missions.  The other 10 missions, specifically, homeland security, search and rescue and drug enforcement, requires some of the same resources as fisheries protection but promise visually attractive benefits.  For instance, in 2015 the Coast Guard saved 3,500 lives at sea and seized 179 metric tons of drugs worth $4.9 billion.  Each event is an opportunity for media attention thereby overshadowing the fisheries protection activities which are comparatively, less sensational. 

Enforcing regulations that protect resources over the open ocean and in remote areas is a costly endeavor. Hourly rates to operate appropriate Coast Guard ships range from $5,000 to nearly $30,000, and surveillance aircraft cost between $10,000 and $20,000.  The Coast Guard budget of $10B is comparatively small to other agencies such as the US Navy at $127B, US Marine Corps at $22B and the NYPD at $4.8B (NYPD has a similar number of personnel to the USCG) and much of this goes towards the Coast Guard's other “sexy” missions rather than fisheries protection. 

The social and economic benefits from fishery sustainability and national security far outweigh the fiscal costs of Coast Guard operations.  According to budget documents for the Coast Guard, the fisheries industry contributes $186 billion and 2 million jobs to the economy annually.  

Although those numbers may seem large, the US imports upwards of 90% of our seafood, approximately 5.3 million pounds worth approximately $18 billion, and 20% of the seafood we consume is illegally caught.  The World Wildlife Fund estimates that worldwide, $23.5 billion worth of seafood is illegally caught annually.

As nations such as, Indonesia and Argentina, secure their EEZs and take action against illegal fishers new areas for exploitation will become targeted.   The US, with the world's largest EEZ, is at increased risk of having our resources stolen, impacting our economic well-being as well as our fisheries health.  Implementing more stringent policies is a start, however, in order to ensure the laws are followed, at-sea enforcement and deterrence is critical for ultimate policy success.