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BEACH NEWS for 2019
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Judge rules Virginia Beach council can factor in sea level rise when deciding on new developments
Surf City acknowledges recent beach push exposes temporary dunes to erosion
Nags Head set for $43 million nourishment project
More big hurricanes are coming, and North Carolina needs to prepare, a new report says
Hilton Head’s south end may get a new hotel. Here’s why the plans depend on FEMA
What is happening with the lake dredging project at Carolina Beach? As it turns out, not much right now.
Will sea-level rise make this $500 million bridge to the Outer Banks obsolete or essential?
Sea walls or sand dunes? Federal agencies don't agree
Thomas Frank, E&E News reporter Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2019
The Army Corps of Engineers is objecting to a plan to vastly expand a federal environmental protection zone along the East Coast, warning that it could "increase the threats to life, safety and property." The Army Corps issued its warning in a three-page letter last week to the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is considering adding 141,000 acres to the coastal zone across five states. Development restrictions in the zone make it difficult for the Army Corps to build protective structures such as sea walls and levees and to replenish eroded beaches. The Army Corps' objections reveal an unusual dispute between two federal agencies with a common goal — protecting coastal communities — but vastly different approaches. The Army Corps, an agency in the Defense Department, is the nation's chief builder of "hard structures" aimed at protecting against the effects of climate change. FWS, which is part of the Interior Department, is seeking to expand coastal conservation areas to help protect species and habitat and to let natural formations such as marshes and barrier islands absorb storm surges.
A long list of environmental groups and state agencies have lined up in support of the FWS proposal, which they say will provide stronger protection against sea-level rise than structures built by the Army Corps. "Sea walls are not a guarantee of safety. Development increases because levees provide a false sense of safety," said Joel Scata, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "From our perspective, the best way to protect an area is not to locate people in harm's way in the first place." Other groups supporting Fish and Wildlife include the National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Refuge Association and Pew Charitable Trusts; regional groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Connecticut Fund for the Environment; and government agencies including the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The dispute centers on the Coastal Barrier Resources System, a politically popular program created in 1982 that encompasses much of the East Coast and Gulf Coast shorelines. It also covers patches on the shores of all five Great Lakes and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The program, which has grown from 450,000 acres at its inception to 3.5 million acres, does not prohibit development but discourages any construction by making areas inside the coastal system ineligible for most federal money and programs. The restrictions mean that the Army Corps generally cannot build inside the coastal system. States and municipalities are free to put up levees, sand dunes and beach groins with their own money but usually cannot afford the costs, the Army Corps said in its letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
FWS is proposing to add the new acres in Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia. Only 5,000 of those acres are land — the rest are wetlands and open water — but nearly half of the land is on the south shore of Long Island encompassing the Hamptons and some of the most valuable real estate in the United States. The Army Corps is looking at doing work along the Long Island coast from Fire Island — a 31-mile-long barrier island about 50 miles east of Manhattan — to Montauk Point at the eastern tip of Long Island. Expanding the coastal barrier system "may preclude" communities from implementing "the most effective coastal-storm risk management measures," the Army Corps said, referring to hard structures. "The addition of more acreage to the system has the potential to increase the threats to life, safety and property damage along our coasts, making our communities more vulnerable." Bill Lucey of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment said that instead of fortifying the Long Island and Connecticut coasts, the federal government should expand marshlands to accommodate wildlife, soak up nutrients and pollutants, and block storm surges. "We have to keep the Long Island Sound ecology intact. We just can't have a body of water surrounded by concrete," said Lucey, who focuses on the body of water between Connecticut and Long Island. "That will heavily reduce stopover areas for migrating shorebirds and beaches where horseshoe crabs can spawn. Estuaries are fantastic places to process excess nitrogen and suck out heavy metals and cleaning the water."
The Army Corps made its objection in an April 16 letter that it submitted to FWS after the agency solicited public comments on the proposed coastal zone expansion. The expansion project began shortly after Superstorm Sandy, which killed 72 people in the United States and caused $65 billion in domestic damage when it lashed the East Coast in 2012. The Interior Department directed FWS to analyze the coastal barrier system and suggest areas that should be added or removed in the nine states hit by Sandy. In March 2018, Fish and Wildlife proposed adding 275,000 acres to the coastal zone in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey. The Army Corps protested that proposal along with New Jersey and several Jersey shore communities, all of which said it would interfere with beach replenishment projects (Climatewire, March 25). Congress must approve any changes to the coastal system's boundaries. FWS expects to give Congress its proposed revisions in the nine states in 2020.
1,000 FEET TO THE FINISH LINE.
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
When coastal hazards threaten your Outer Banks trip
Ports granted variance for Cape Fear River turning basin
PUBLIC NOTICE - The Wilmington District, Corps of Engineers (Corps) received an application from the North Carolina State Ports Authority (NC SPA) seeking Department of the Army authorization to reauthorize an existing permit, associated with maintenance dredging within waters adjacent to the Port of Morehead City dock and berth areas, in Carteret County, North Carolina.
STORM PREPARATIONS (EVER SO CLOSE); NEW PHOTOS; & DUNE PLANTING UPDATE
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Town faces first deadline for beach work (SC)
Coastal erosion specialist on Surf City’s $300,000 beach push: ‘emotional benefit’ but little improvement
3,000 FEET TO GO
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Outer Banks beach becomes moonscape when ‘unusually large’ formations appear in sand
GREAT LAKES DREDGE & DOCK POWERS THROUGH THE WEEKEND – HOME STRETCH
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Couple sues for right to rebuild Outer Banks house where beach erodes 6 feet a year
Hunting Island visitors could see beach changes by the end of the year
Ports Authority Set to Appeal Permit Denial
STRONG PRODUCTIVITY CONTINUES – WEATHER THIS WEEKEND.
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Groups appeal state permit for DeBordieu groins (SC)
Crews Restore South Carolina Beaches After Storms
As Bonner Bridge Comes Down Navigation Through Oregon Inlet is Shifting
Schumer vows to fight FEMA flood plan
Thomas Frank, E&E News, April 12, 2019
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to halt revisions to the flood insurance program that could result in millions of homeowners seeing their premiums rise or fall. Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said the changes "could outright soak" residents of Long Island, N.Y., by increasing the premiums they pay through the National Flood Insurance Program and decreasing their property values. "We cannot try to prop up the program on the backs of Long Islanders, who, under this plan, would likely become the bullseye of back-breaking costs," Schumer said in a statement. Schumer is the highest-profile member of Congress to voice concerns about a plan FEMA announced in March to adjust premiums for many of the 3.5 million homeowners insured under the NFIP by gauging more accurately each home's flood risk and value. Rates will not be revised for the 1.6 million NFIP policyholders who own multifamily homes, condominium units or nonresidential property. The revision, called Risk Rating 2.0, also will set premiums according to the cost to rebuild a home instead of using a home's value, which is current policy. The plan will "aim to deliver more equitable rates for owners of lower-value homes," FEMA says, while raising premiums for higher-value houses. The two counties that make up Long Island — Nassau and Suffolk — have some of the highest home values in the nation, according to the National Association of Realtors. The average home value is $518,794 in Nassau, which ranks 47th out of 3,200 counties, and $417,873 in Suffolk, which ranks 81st.
Schumer also criticized FEMA for bypassing Congress and providing little public information about Risk Rating 2.0 beyond a 221-word statement on its website. "It is an outright joke for the administration to think that they can propose major reforms on how we pay for flood insurance, and how it impacts property values on Long Island, without presenting its plan and answering a litany of questions by Congress," Schumer said during a media event on Long Island on April 1. FEMA has portrayed Risk Rating 2.0 as an administrative action that involves augmenting the factors it considers in assessing a home's flood risk to include various inundations such as heavy rainfall and river overflow and measuring the precise distance between a home and the nearest flood source. It does not involve the type of program overhaul that Congress approved in 2012 and 2014. FEMA Deputy Associate Administrator David Maurstad, who oversees the NFIP, has said the program aims to encourage more homeowners to buy flood insurance by making it easier for them to understand their flood risk.
Other lawmakers have reacted cautiously to Risk Rating 2.0. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans in March that the revision "needs to accurately account for local flood-protection structures when determining the risk profile for homes." A spokesman for House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, who represents most of southeastern Louisiana and has been closely involved in flood insurance oversight, told the news outlet that Scalise "would be strongly opposed to efforts by FEMA that would result in massive rate shocks that would decimate communities in south Louisiana and harm families and small businesses." In addition to raising insurance rates on expensive homes, Risk Rating 2.0 is expected to increase premiums for most flood-prone neighborhoods. Higher flood insurance costs could reduce a property's value by signaling to potential buyers that a house has a high flood risk. Schumer's concerns were echoed by four elected officials from Nassau County. Chumi Diamond, president of the City Council in Long Beach, which experiences frequent flooding, said increasing insurance premiums "could make living in Long Beach unaffordable." Maurstad told journalists last month that "some people's rates will increase. Others' rates will decrease. We don't know what that will look like at this time." New rates are scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, 2020.
BOTH HOPPER DREDGES IN OPERATION
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
National Coastal Resilience Fund 2019 Request for Proposals
North Myrtle Beach’s last remnant dunes now focus of a new preservation push
Coastal homes aren't ready for climate change — study
Daniel Cusick, E&E News, April 9, 2019
Coastal property owners are failing to take even basic steps to protect their homes against sea-level rise and hurricanes, even as climate change increases the risk that coastal homes will be damaged by rising tides and storm surges, according to new research. The study from the University of Notre Dame, published in the journal Climatic Change, also found that disaster preparedness research on the "structural vulnerabilities" of coastal homes is scarce. It suggested more attention should be paid to simple, often voluntary measures that homeowners can take to mitigate against future damage from climate events. "Absent strict, enforceable regulations mandating retrofitting of existing homes or major changes in homeowner insurance requirements, coastal resilience in a changing climate will largely reflect private, voluntary decisions of millions of individuals," the researchers found.
The findings are based on a pilot study conducted in New Hanover County, N.C., which has one of the most exposed shorelines on the Atlantic Coast, according to Tracy Kijewski-Correa, one of the study's lead investigators and an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences at Notre Dame. Researchers surveyed 662 owners of coastal properties in and around Wrightsville Beach, N.C., one of the most densely developed shorelines on the south Atlantic coast. The survey boundary did not extend into urban areas like Wilmington or other riverine communities that were badly flooded during Hurricane Florence. Yet even among these properties most exposed to hurricanes, researchers found that, on average, homes are "minimally protected" against climate risks. Moreover, homeowners had taken "few actions to address the structural vulnerabilities" of their properties, and many were not considering taking action in the future. Researchers found that more than a third of all surveyed property owners "have not taken a single action to improve their home's resilience." Between 30% and 50% did not know the impact ratings for their homes' doors and windows, critical information to determining a property's ability to withstand airborne debris. "Even with all the learning we've had [from previous storms], people do not take voluntary precautions," Kijewski-Correa said in an interview. "If it's mandated, it's going to get done. But anything beyond that, what we call 'code-plus,' is for the most part not happening."
She described the surveyed area as "a microcosm" of other coastal communities along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, stressing that more research needs to be done on how coastal property owners perceive climate risk and what steps, if any, they are taking to protect their homes against future storms. "As climate changes, coastal homeowners are potentially crucial actors in reducing the risks to property and human life from rising seas and increased hurricane activity," the researchers said. In addition to questions about mitigation, the survey asked homeowners about their hurricane and flood experiences, home valuation, insurance, and sociopolitical attitudes and opinions. Kijewski-Correa said that the study found little correlation between these factors and homeowners' mitigation efforts. Researchers also said that "the perceived cost of mitigation cannot sufficiently explain the lack of action, implying that other factors are at play." The study was done in collaboration with the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety and was funded by the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative, Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
PIPE FLIPPED TO THE WEST, ELLIS ISLAND ON THE WAY.
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Sandbridge Beach and dunes to be renourished
Editorial: Dredging for port should be priority
PROJECT CONTINUES - MORE INFORMATION CONCERNING DUNE PLANTS
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Some changes are on tap for half-cent meals tax bill
PROJECT CONTINUES - BIG WEEK AHEAD
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
THE RISKS FROM OUR RISING SEAS (PART III) - How other communities face the challenge
STARTING REACH 1 (Emerald Isle), GREENHOUSE PICTURES
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Coast Guard: Carolina Beach Inlet too shallow for safe travel
New Hanover County to begin dredging Carolina Beach Inlet after Coast Guard calls waters unsafe
Port of Wilmington appeals denial of turning basin expansion
REACH 2 COMPLETED, VEGETATION NOTE, ELLIS ISLAND ARRIVING ON THE 8th
Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Development rules near inlets have been basically the same since 1981. This year that could change
Recent full-moon tide and northeaster eroded some of Surf City’s recently restored dunes
Folly Beach land swap raises concerns about city’s environmental lawsuit
FLIPPING THE PIPE & BIG WEEK AHEAD - Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Part II – THE RISKS FROM OUR RISING SEAS ‘We use the tools that we have’
Flood insurance update likely to impact Louisiana residents
NCDOT releases sea level rise assessment for Cape Fear Crossing
Bogue Banks Sand Project Nears Final Leg
Nourishment project progresses
PROJECT CONTINUES AFTER WEATHER - Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Oregon Inlet: ‘It needs a jetty’
Council Hears Beach Nourishment Project Update
Sand fight sparked by big conservation plan for beaches
Thomas Frank, E&E News, Monday, March 25, 2019
A Trump administration proposal to vastly expand federal conservation land along the East Coast is facing protests from states and communities that say the plan will damage tourism industries that are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The dispute is unfolding from Maryland to Massachusetts as officials and homeowners object to a plan by the Fish and Wildlife Service to add 275,000 acres to a federal protection zone. It's one of the largest expansions of the Coastal Barrier Resources System in its 37-year history. The expansion will strengthen the East Coast's "resiliency and sustainability" following Sandy, which killed 72 people in the U.S. and caused $65 billion in domestic damage, the agency says.
The epicenter of the battle is the New Jersey shore, where expanded conservation areas would interfere with beach replenishment and protection projects essential to sustaining the legendary tourist destination, state and local officials say. "New Jersey generates billions of dollars from tourism and property values. Everybody benefits from this," said Scott Wahl, Avalon Borough's business administrator, referring to beach-refilling projects in his southern New Jersey seaside community. "This is not to benefit a bunch of rich people who live along the shore." The controversy recently drew in Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a Democrat representing southern New Jersey. He wrote a letter March 14 imploring FWS to let shore communities continue to dredge sand from a federal conservation area to refill nearby beaches that are constantly eroded by tides. Environmental advocates are pushing back with warnings about the possible ecological damage from beach replenishment projects that they call "sand mining."
"These sand removals have an impact on fish habitat, fisheries that depend on the habitat and wildlife," said Karen Hyun, head of coastal conservation for the National Audubon Society and a former senior FWS official. The Audubon Society released a study last week saying the protection zones have saved federal taxpayers $9.5 billion in disaster aid by keeping coastal areas clear of buildings, roads and infrastructure. David Conrad of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, which supports the proposed expansion, said it will conserve flood-prone land. The dispute centers on the federal Coastal Barrier Resources System, a politically popular program that aims to limit development in environmentally sensitive coastal areas that provide fish and wildlife habitat and protect inland communities against storm surges. Created in 1982, the coastal system has grown to include 3.5 million acres, mostly along the East and Gulf coasts, but also in patches along the shores of all five Great Lakes and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The program does not prohibit development but discourages it by making areas inside the coastal system ineligible for most federal money and programs. On the Jersey Shore, residents and officials fear losing support of one critical federal agency: the Army Corps of Engineers, which does beach restoration and protection projects around the nation. The Army Corps has been helping rebuild and protect New Jersey's vulnerable coastline since the 1960s, said Patrick Rosenello, the mayor of North Wildwood, a coastal city of 4,000 people whose population surges to 69,000 in the summer. Project costs are typically split among the Army Corps, the state and a municipality. In 2005, the Army Corps built a sea wall stretching a mile and a half along North Wildwood's beach and agreed to make storm-related repairs for 50 years. The sea wall runs north-south along the Atlantic coast. At the city's northern edge, it curves inland and abuts a shallow inlet that sits inside a section of the Coastal Barrier Resources System known as NJ-09. In March 2018, FWS published a map showing that it planned to expand NJ-09 slightly to include the area containing the sea wall. The minor shift has major implications.
"This expansion would take the Army Corps of Engineers out of their role of helping to maintain their project," Rosenello said. Rosenello and two neighboring mayors wrote to FWS in July urging revisions to NJ-09 that would let the Army Corps repair North Wildwood's sea wall and take sand from the protected inlet to restore beaches of Avalon and Stone Harbor Borough. Avalon and Stone Harbor would remain outside NJ-09 under the proposed expansion. But they fear that if the Army Corps cannot use sand from next-door Hereford Inlet for beach restoration, the agency would have to dredge sand from an unprotected inlet several miles away, costing millions of dollars more. "There are several million cubic yards of sand sitting unused in Hereford Inlet that can and should be used for resiliency and protection of lives and property," said Wahl, the Avalon business administrator. Avalon, North Wildwood and Stone Harbor are major attractions in Cape May County, where tourism accounts for nearly half of the jobs, generates $6.4 billion in sales and boosts the population from 94,000 to 750,000 in the summer, according to the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism. FWS said in an email to E&E News that it is "considering modifying" its proposed expansion of NJ-09 "to ensure that the existing structure [sea wall] is not included."
The Army Corps and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection have joined in objecting to the FWS proposal to expand federal protection zones across the New Jersey coast. "We cannot support the expansion," the department said in a 20-page letter to the agency in July, citing potential harm to the state's tourism and shellfish industries as well as to planned road construction projects. Stewart Farrell, director of the Coastal Research Center at Stockton University in New Jersey and a consultant to local communities, said that barring federal money from being spent on beach restoration deviates from the intent of the Coastal Barrier Resources Act. "They didn't want federal dollars to encourage development. But this is not encouraging development. It's protecting what's already there," Farrell said. Elsewhere on the East Coast, state and local officials from Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York have objected to segments of the plan that affect tourist destinations such as Fire Island, N.Y., and Provincetown, Mass. Supporters include the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Association of State Floodplain Managers and the Audubon Society. They note that communities could continue to replenish their beaches without federal money. "It's putting the onus on state and local government," said Hyun of the Audubon Society.
The expansion project began one year after Superstorm Sandy, when the Interior Department, which oversees FWS, gave the agency $5 million to review the federal protection zones in the nine states most directly affected. Those states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia. The review is part of a broader, long-term project ordered by Congress in 2006 to analyze the entire Coastal Barrier Resources System, suggest areas that should be added or removed, and correct errors in the maps that define the protection zones. Congress must approve any changes to the system's geographic boundaries. FWS told E&E News that it expects to propose the revisions to Congress in 2020. Wahl of Avalon and Rosenello of North Wildwood said that if Congress approves the expansion of NJ-09, they will take their fight to federal court.
The Risks from Our Rising Seas - What the science tells us
Prep for beach re-nourishment in Nags Head to start soon
DCM Denies Permit for Port Project
Low-key rollout brings big change to flood rates
Thomas Frank, E&E News, March 21, 2019
A Trump administration plan to refine how it calculates flood risk to homes in the federal flood insurance program is drawing praise from environmental advocates who say the revisions will make the ratings more accurate. The administration's "Risk Rating 2.0" plan will affect insurance rates for 3.5 million single-family homeowners who buy coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program starting in October 2020, though it's unclear whose rates will rise and whose will fall. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the program, hopes its plan will address the long-standing problem of millions of at-risk homeowners lacking flood insurance. FEMA Deputy Associate Administrator David Maurstad said the plan will help homeowners "better understand their flood risk" and encourage them to buy flood insurance. "We will have more insured survivors, and that means less disaster suffering," Maurstad told a small group of reporters in a conference call Monday.
Rob Moore, a policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, applauded the plan and said it would align insurance premiums more closely with flood risk. "This is an important action for making the flood insurance program based on a clearer picture of reality," Moore said. Under Risk Rating 2.0, FEMA will augment the risk factors it considers in assessing individual properties to include various types of floods — heavy rainfall, river overflow and coastal surge — and the distance between a home and a river, lake or ocean. FEMA also will consider the replacement cost of a home instead of its assessed value, which will likely decrease insurance rates for less-expensive homes and increase rates for pricier residences. "Leveraging these variables, the new rating plan will help customers better understand their flood risk and provide them with more accurate rates based on their unique risk," Maurstad said.
Federal flood insurance rates are now based largely on a few limited factors, such as a home's elevation above a floodplain, and its size and construction, such as whether it has a basement, Moore said. "There's not a lot of nuance as far as types of floods," Moore said. "There's no distinction between a coastal or inland property, even though if you look at where flood damage occurs, it matters." FEMA will spend the next year establishing new rates for policyholders in single-family homes and will publish them by April 1, 2020. New rates will take effect Oct. 1, 2020. Rates will not be revised for the 1.6 million NFIP policyholders who own multifamily homes, condominium units or nonresidential property. Federal law limits how much an individual policyholder's rates can increase in a single year. Risk Rating 2.0 comes as Congress recently began debating a major overhaul to the flood program, to reduce costs for low-income policyholders, improve the precision of flood maps and make the program actuarially sound. NFIP owes the U.S. Treasury $20.5 billion that it was forced to borrow starting in 2005 because the cost of catastrophic hurricanes far exceeded its revenue from insurance premiums. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee, which oversees NFIP, recently proposed forgiving the $20.5 billion debt. FEMA's release of Risk Rating 2.0 appeared to be a quiet signal to Congress that the agency will try to address some of NFIP's problems. Although Maurstad indicated that the plan had major significance — he said it would "change the insurance rating structure that hasn't been changed since the 1970s" — the announcement was low-key. FEMA provided no written materials and has posted on its website only a five-paragraph announcement, which says the plan will "improve the policyholder experience and better reflect industry best practices."
SCHEDULE UPDATE (2nd Dredge) - Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Government Overhaul of National Flood Insurance Cheered by Climate Resilience Experts
Couple sues for right to rebuild Nags Head beachfront home
Analysis: Support For Terminal Groins Erodes
Bills Would Extend Towns’ Marine Authority
Revenues from post-Hurricane Katrina, Rita offshore drilling projects fall short
Lawmakers may reduce sand dune protections as hurricane threat unabated (Ga)
REACH 3 COMPLETE - REACH 2 STARTED - Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Southern Shores to hear views on widening 3 miles of beach
SC’s flood insurance rates could see massive change with new FEMA program
County: Nourishment project on track to be complete by Easter
REACH 3 ALMOST COMPLETE - Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
With Three Dredging Projects at Hatteras Inlet, Commission Examines Issues at Oregon Inlet, Other Sites
DHEC board denies challenge to groin project at DeBordieu beach
Georgia lawmakers look to change rules of beach development
In photos: Carolina Beach re-nourishment project underway
'This program is sick.' Fight brews over flood insurance
Thomas Frank, E&E News Thursday, March 14, 2019
Efforts in Congress to overhaul an embattled insurance program that covers millions of properties against flood damage were jolted yesterday by a plan to make taxpayers pay $20 billion in cost overruns. The proposal by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee, was instantly attacked by Republicans, setting up tense negotiations over renewing the program as chronic flooding is exacerbated by climate change. Despite unanimous agreement that the National Flood Insurance Program needs revision, the problems and potential solutions are so varied that Congress has failed for more than four years to help it avoid financial losses and steer development out of flood-prone areas. Although the program primarily insures against floods, it also reduces damage to property through mitigation programs and flood mapping. "This program is sick," Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) said at a hearing yesterday by the Financial Services Committee. Duffy's 2017 reform bill, which sought to encourage more private insurers to write flood policies, passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Waters is taking a different approach that stresses containing insurance rates, strengthening flood mitigation and improving FEMA's ongoing work at drawing new maps that define the nation's flood zones. And Waters wants to start by forgiving the $20.5 billion debt the insurance program began accumulating when massive hurricanes forced it to pay unprecedented claims, beginning with Katrina in 2005. "We must do more to address unaffordable premium costs for low-income households [and] address the program's debt, which is unfairly burdening policyholders with millions of dollars in interest," Waters said yesterday. The program has paid $4.2 billion in interest on its debt to the Treasury Department since 2005, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs NFIP. The program was self-sustaining until 2005.
Debt forgiveness promises to be controversial because Congress and the White House canceled $16 billion of the insurance program's debt in October 2017 after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria caused billions of dollars of flood damage in Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) said that writing off the debt is "bad policy and shortsighted" because it "does not solve the root causes of insolvency." The ranking Republican on the Financial Services Committee, Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, criticized Waters' proposal for forgiving "$20 billion without any assurance or necessary reforms that give us some understanding that it wouldn't just pile up again." But another Republican, Rep. Garret Graves, who represents a flood-prone district in southern Louisiana, noted that Congress allocated $120 billion in disaster aid to help victims of the 2017 hurricanes, many of whom did not have flood insurance. "We can't just look at the balance of the debt," said Graves, the ranking member of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (Climatewire, March 11). The insurance program covers 5.1 million properties and is the nation's primary flood insurer. Homeowners' insurance policies generally do not cover flood damage.
One of Waters' boldest proposals would take a step toward providing premium discounts to low-income policyholders, who are heavily concentrated in some high-risk flood zones. Many policyholders receive federal subsidies if they live in homes built before 1975 or in homes that were recently declared to be in a high-risk flood zone. Waters' proposal would for the first time establish subsidies based on a policyholders' income. That received support from the conservative R Street Institute, which advocates for free markets. R.J. Lehmann, the institute's director of insurance, praised Waters and said her idea is "the first substantial policy proposal" to address the affordability of federal flood insurance. Policies cost an average of $699 a year, according to FEMA, but vary widely, particularly in high-risk areas in which many low-income individuals and families live. Current subsidies "disproportionately benefit wealthier areas," Lehmann said. Subsidizing low-income policyholders — those making less than 80 percent of an area's median household income — is "crucial" to phasing out other subsidies, Lehmann said. Waters proposed providing subsidies to low-income policyholders for five years to test whether they induce more property owners to buy flood insurance.
Waters also would modernize how FEMA draws new flood zones by requiring the agency to use the most advanced technology and to produce heavily detailed maps. Flood-mapping expert Velma Smith of the Pew Charitable Trusts research organization testified yesterday that spending on new maps "has been far from adequate" and that many rural areas "lack even the most basic information about [flood] risks." That could lead communities to allow construction unwittingly in high-risk flood zones, Smith said. The insurance program's legal authority expires on May 31, 2019. The deadline will force Congress to enact reform by then or to simply pass a one-page bill extending the program for a period of months without making any changes. Congress has passed such reauthorizations 10 times since the end of 2017.
PROJECT UPDATE (with "after dredge" Photos of beach) - Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
ENC beaches ‘slowly self-healing’ following Florence damages
Beach renourishment underway along several Crystal Coast beaches
Topsail Towns Prioritize Storm Projects
Bald Head Renourishment Project Nears End
Owner of giant 24-bedroom Outer Banks house drops lawsuit as it sits empty
Opening ‘a can or worms’? NC committee backs letting some schools start the year earlier
Update (w/ NEW DUNE CONSTRUCTION SCHEMATIC) - Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
PROJECT START (with Photos) - Post-Florence Renourishment Project (Phase I)
Sanderson files bill to revive dredging referendum
Bald Head Island Beach Renourishment Begins; Demonstrates Long-Term Terminal Groin Success
OBX town of Duck looks to the mountains for help with coastal flooding
OFFSHORE DRILLING - Interior gives lawmakers no guarantees on 5-year plan
Kellie Lunney and Jennifer Yachnin, E&E News reporters, March 7, 2019
The acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management yesterday told House lawmakers the agency would release "in the coming weeks" its revised proposed five-year offshore drilling plan to open up more than 90 percent of federal waters to oil and gas leasing. Natural Resources Committee Democrats couldn't pin down Walter Cruickshank on a specific date for the second rollout of the highly anticipated proposal, which once released will enter a 90-day public comment period. Lawmakers also couldn't get him to say which states — if any — ultimately will be excluded from the 2019-2024 outer continental shelf plan to put the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans in play for potential drilling. "How much longer and what needs to happen before we make a final determination that Florida will be either in or out of this plan given that the entire Florida delegation opposes it?" Florida Democratic Rep. Darren Soto asked Cruickshank during an Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing. "Where we are in the process right now, congressman, is we are finalizing the analysis of the schedule that was in the draft proposed program, providing that analysis and the comments received from the public, from governors, from the congressional delegation to the acting secretary so that he can make his decisions on what to include in the proposed program," the BOEM acting director said, noting the "rather drawn-out process" dictated by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
That next proposal will trigger more analysis and public feedback before it heads back to the Interior secretary for final recommendations. "All of that needs to happen before there is a final program put into place," Cruickshank said. California Democratic Reps. Jared Huffman and Mike Levin had similar exchanges with Cruickshank, noting their state's robust opposition to being included in the proposal. "Was the message received?" Huffman asked, referring to the Golden State's rejection of the administration's offshore drilling proposal. "The message was certainly received, and comments have been shared with the department's leadership," Cruickshank said, adding that the law outlines several criteria for offshore drilling plans, including public feedback. "Public input certainly informs those factors but, by law, is not and cannot be the only thing we consider," he said. Huffman said the committee yesterday received initial documents it had requested from BOEM last month related to communication between the Interior Department and then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) office regarding then-Secretary Ryan Zinke's Jan. 9, 2018, visit (E&E Daily, March 4). After that visit, Zinke tweeted he was "taking #Florida off the table for offshore oil and gas" and the department's proposed offshore drilling plan, which kick-started a series of confusing comments about the matter and prompted many coastal states to demand an exemption from the plan. Cruickshank agreed to come back before the committee to discuss those documents once they've all been handed over to the panel and analyzed. Republicans, including Louisiana's Garret Graves and Arizona's Paul Gosar, criticized Democrats for their opposition to oil and gas drilling when those revenues have largely funded conservation programs across the country (E&E Daily, March 5).
'No one picked up'
BOEM wasn't the only Interior agency in the spotlight during the subcommittee hearing. Chairman Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) blasted Scott Angelle, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, for not showing up to the hearing. Doug Morris, the agency's chief of offshore regulatory programs, said Angelle asked him to testify. Morris and Cruickshank are both career employees, who, as Lowenthal noted, are not responsible for setting the policy agenda across their respective agencies. "It's particularly shameful to see political leadership hide behind career employees," the Democrat said, mentioning that Zinke had once referred to "30 percent" of the department as not "loyal to the flag" (Greenwire, Sept. 26, 2017). Lowenthal and full committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) yesterday sent a letter to Interior acting Secretary David Bernhardt requesting phone records for Angelle, the second such request Democrats have made. Angelle in 2017 spoke to a group of energy companies, gave them his cellphone number and said: "I'd rather you call me. Everything you text me is a public record, so be careful. ... Everything that you send me in email is a public record. ... This is a business opportunity to engage with me on what you believe we ought to be about," according to the Democrats' letter. Lowenthal said he called that cellphone number this afternoon to ask Angelle why he wasn't testifying.
"And after ringing and ringing, no one picked up," he said. It's not clear Angelle still has the same mobile number as he did during the 2017 conference. Morris said he believed that Angelle was in the office yesterday when Lowenthal asked his whereabouts. "Director, if you're watching this program, we request that the next time you're asked to come, that you do your job and you come before the committee," Lowenthal said. Democrats also invited James Reilly, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, to testify yesterday, but he declined.
Lawmakers also grilled Morris over regulations implemented after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill designed to increase offshore drilling safety protocols for owners and operators. Interior has granted roughly 1,700 exemptions to the regulations since 2016, which Politico first reported last week. Both committee Democrats and Republicans focused on "waivers" in their questions to Morris. Republican Kevin Hern of Oklahoma said the number of exemptions since 2016 — many of them requested during the Obama administration — demonstrated how burdensome the regulations are. But Democrats faulted BSEE for allowing multiple exemptions. "We were absolutely devastated by the BP oil spill in Florida," said Soto, adding that "it has dumbfounded our entire delegation after we put these rules in place, and they had bipartisan support, that we see them shredded to Swiss cheese." Morris took issue with the term "waivers," instead defining the actions as "alternative compliance." "It gives operators flexibility to use something that's better," Morris said. "If it's a newer standard, if it's an international standard, that provision allows them to use that. And it changes what's essentially a very prescriptive requirement to more performance-based."
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Flood panel can't meet under Trump; 16 of 20 seats empty
Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2019
A federal advisory panel that's supposed to provide scientific information to the National Flood Insurance Program is entering a five-month work stoppage, even as property losses mount against the backdrop of severe inundation related to climate change. The Technical Mapping Advisory Council, or TMAC, is composed of 20 experts tapped by the FEMA administrator to answer complex questions about flood dynamics and flood risk in areas across the United States that are experiencing higher temperatures.
Created by Congress in 2012, TMAC's specific charge is to "ensure that flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs) reflect the best available science and are based on the best available methodologies for considering the impact of future development on flood risk." Its findings have direct implications for NFIP, the federal insurance program meant to protect private properties from catastrophic flood losses. Today, NFIP has nearly 5.1 million policyholders and is more than $20 billion in debt, a crisis brought on by unprecedented payouts since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Congressional leaders and a broad spectrum of interest groups — ranging from environmental organizations to free-market think tanks and insurance industry trade groups — say the program needs sweeping reforms to set it on a firmer financial footing. That task could be a lot harder with FEMA's top experts sitting on the sidelines.
A FEMA spokesperson told E&E News last week that only four of TMAC's members have passed required screenings by the White House and the Department of Homeland Security. "The remaining members are currently pending appointment clearances. As a result ... the TMAC does not have [a] quorum and cannot continue work," the FEMA official said. Among the individuals awaiting White House clearance is TMAC's chairman, Jeffrey Sparrow, a professional engineer and certified floodplain manager with Moffatt & Nichol. "I was the chair for the past year, and if my appointment hadn't lapsed, I would still be the chair," Sparrow said in a telephone interview. "I think there is a level of frustration," Sparrow said about the work stoppage. "We have done good work; we've invested our time in doing this, but we're not able to complete our work." TMAC's last official meeting occurred Sept. 25-26, in Reston, Va., two weeks after Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas and one week before Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle. The two storms generated more than 9,000 NFIP claims, setting the program even deeper in debt after it processed tens of billions of dollars in claims after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017.
Meanwhile, answers to critical questions that could help FEMA update and improve its flood maps remain hidden in a working draft of a report — a document that hasn't been touched since Sept. 30, according to current and former TMAC members. "This is the weird thing; we were not done with our task," said Suzanne Jiwani, a floodplain mapping engineer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources who oversaw part of the council's research plan for 2018. "I'm frankly surprised that they've held it for so long. It does feel like looking into a black hole." Jiwani's TMAC appointment ended last fall. She said she was asked to continue working as a subject area specialist for the council, but no one from FEMA has contacted her recently. Among the key questions TMAC was studying last year was how to communicate uncertainty and precision around data models that determine flood zones without undermining public confidence in flood insurance maps. "We want people to still feel confident in their decisions about where to live, where to build and how to build," Sparrow said. The council was also trying to find ways to better balance FEMA resources between upgrading existing flood maps and creating new maps for areas that have never been mapped but face growing flood risk. Jiwani, who oversaw that part of the 2018 research effort, said TMAC looked carefully at rural areas where development had historically been too sparse to justify creating flood insurance maps. It also studied urban areas of less than a square mile, often in the heart of a city, that FEMA had not mapped because their drainage areas were too small.
"This is called pluvial flooding, and it can be quite damaging to these small areas, so we said that's an issue that FEMA needs to look into," Jiwani said.
FEMA said it will take up those questions as soon as TMAC achieves a quorum of at least 11 members, and it can submit its final 2018 report to the FEMA administrator. Sparrow said a draft summary of the report, which is available on FEMA's website, does not reflect the council's final conclusions. Previous TMAC reports dating to 2015 are available on the council's website. They include a January 2016 "future conditions risk assessment" that advises FEMA on how to incorporate climate science into flood risk assessments and ensure the agency has the best available methodology for weighing the role of sea-level rise in future flood risk maps. Sparrow said he's confident that the council's previous recommendations, including those published in annual reports filed for 2016 and 2017, have been taken seriously by FEMA. "I'm certain these reports are not sitting on a shelf collecting dust," he said. "I know that FEMA staff are pushing this issue, and pushing it up the chain to bring more attention to it." Meanwhile, the NFIP lives by temporary congressional authorizations — it has had 10 extensions since 2017 — while little progress has been made with regard to broader reforms for the program.
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'Vicious cycle.' Flood program hit by storms, then debt
Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter, January 25, 2019
Will 2019 be the year the National Flood Insurance Program gets its crucial overhaul? Experts aren't holding their breath. "My gut says we will get a flood insurance bill out of this Congress," said R.J. Lehmann, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, which has advocated for NFIP reforms. "You'll have to ask me later if it's a bill we like, if it's a bill the nation needs." The Federal Emergency Management Agency-administered program has faced mounting scrutiny as its costs skyrocketed in 2017 and 2018. Today it is more than $20 billion in debt and has operated on temporary reauthorizations since September 2017. Over the same period, the United States has suffered billions of additional dollars in property losses from floods, which experts say will only intensify with a warming climate.
In its 2019 Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum placed "extreme weather events" and "failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation" on par with "weapons of mass destruction" as the world's greatest threats (Climatewire, Jan. 22). Scientists and economists have noted that extreme weather events are growing more disruptive and expensive, saddling taxpayers and private-sector insurers with tens of billions of dollars in property claims every year. Meanwhile, federal disaster assistance soared to a record $130 billion in 2017, according to the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Jeffrey Czajkowski, the center's managing director, said in an interview that NFIP remains a critical part of the nation's overall flood insurance portfolio. But Congress must take steps to align the program with new realities on the ground, including more realistic assessments of at-risk properties. Climate change, development and other landscape changes have conspired to make many of the nation's FEMA flood maps useless, he said. And even with updated maps, millions of homeowners risk seeing their homes inundated by floodwater as weather events become more severe and unpredictable.
"I think they need to move away from this dichotomy of whether you're in or out of a designated flood area," Czajkowski said. "It's about getting people to think more holistically about floods. We know that floods don't stop at the boundary of the 100-year flood map, so let's stop using that line as our primary tool for defining who needs insurance." FEMA currently has more than 5.1 million NFIP policies providing at least $1.3 trillion in coverage for flood damages. The agency collects only $3.6 billion in annual revenue from premiums, leaving the program exposed to massive shortfalls when multiple flood disasters occur over a relatively short period, as it has since 2016. NFIP claims from the five most destructive hurricanes of the last two years — Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence and Michael — could reach $19 billion, according to experts. That doesn't account for billions of additional NFIP dollars flowing to policyholders in non-hurricane-affected areas, including California and the Mississippi River Basin, both of which have experienced catastrophic flooding over the last 24 months. Claims that exceed the $3.6 billion in premium revenue is covered by the U.S. Treasury, with a borrowing cap of $30.4 billion. Congress canceled $16 billion of NFIP debt in 2017 to pay claims associated with that year's hurricanes. But the program quickly took on more debt and currently owes the Treasury $20.5 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Diane Horn, a CRS analyst who tracks NFIP issues for lawmakers, said in a report last week that the program faces two major problems if Congress fails to meet the upcoming reauthorization deadline of May 31. First, FEMA will no longer have authority to issue new flood insurance contracts. Polices already in force would be good until the end of the next 12-month policy term. FEMA's borrowing authority from the Treasury would also be slashed from $30 billion to $1 billion. "Other activities of the program would technically remain authorized, such as the issuance of Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants," Horn wrote. "However, the expiration of the key authorities ... would have potentially significant impacts on the remaining NFIP activities."
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats led by Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) are expected to take up NFIP in the early months of the 116th Congress, according to groups who are advocating for reforms.
In her first policy speech as chairwoman last week, Waters cited NFIP as one of the "big issues we are going to try to work on [on] a bipartisan basis." Among the key hurdles going forward will be gaining support for provisions that address the problem of repetitive-loss properties, defined as buildings and contents for which the NFIP has paid at least two claims of more than $1,000 in any 10-year period since 1978. Critics say FEMA payments to rebuild thousands of repetitive-loss properties have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better spent making homes, buildings and communities safer and more resilient to flooding. "The program is in a vicious cycle of flood, rebuild and debt," said Laura Lightbody, project director for the flood-prepared communities initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts. "One way to dig out is reducing the amount of times the federal government pays for flooded properties to rebuild again and again." Reformers have also stressed the need for greater disclosure requirements when flood-prone properties are put on the market, especially when a property has flooded multiple times.
Four GOP-sponsored bills that passed a key House committee last year are being reintroduced, including legislation that would require FEMA to purchase reinsurance policies from the private sector. The agency already has authority to tap reinsurance and capital markets, and it did so last year and in 2017. The agency has a three-year contract with Hannover Re to secure $500 million of NFIP's financial risk through August 2021. Other bills forwarded by GOP Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri would allow local communities to develop their own flood maps; require flood insurance premiums to be based on the replacement value of a flood-destroyed property; and allow owners of commercial properties to purchase private flood insurance rather than meet NFIP mandatory purchase requirements.
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Interior updates shutdown plan to push 5-year leasing policy
Kelsey Brugger, E&E News, January 15, 2019
The Trump administration brought employees back to work last Thursday to advance the controversial outer continental shelf five-year leasing plan — just two days after the Interior Department said the work was shelved during the government shutdown. Last week, Interior updated its contingency plans so 40 employees at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management could be available "on an on-call basis to perform the exempt functions of preparing National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Program decision documents." The work includes conducting environmental review and finalizing seismic testing permits for energy exploration off the Atlantic coast. "In order to comply with the Administration's America First energy strategy to develop a new [outer continental shelf] Oil and Gas leasing program, work must continue toward issuing the Proposed Program per the Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Act requirements," reads the updated shutdown plan, dated Jan. 8. That's the same day Interior officials told E&E News in an email that no one at BOEM was working on the five-year plan.
Industry sources had suspected the five-year leasing plan would be delayed due to the government shutdown. Initially, Interior officials contended that was mere speculation, noting a firm publish date was never given. Today, officials confirmed BOEM employees resumed work on the five-year plan Thursday. They did not respond to further questions by deadline. The former shutdown plan, dated December 2018, does not mention the outer continental shelf leasing program. It says that BOEM employees would not work on new energy development and that essential employees would permit ongoing work to buttress sister agency the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the offshore regulator.
Last January, the Trump administration's draft five-year plan shocked coastal residents by proposing to open up 90 percent of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas drilling. Interior officials later clarified that the final version would be winnowed down. But environmentalists wasted little time in suing the federal government. Last week, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson — a Republican — intervened to fight energy exploration off the Atlantic coast. Last week, multiple coastal lawmakers introduced bills to halt the Trump administration's five-year drilling plan. The legislation would prohibit offshore drilling or energy exploration in federal waters off the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Some bills are state-specific, and others span the entire Eastern Seaboard (E&E News PM, Jan. 8). In recent weeks, critics have cried foul that the Trump administration has given the oil industry special treatment during the shutdown.
Michael Bromwich, the high-profile attorney and an Obama-era director of offshore federal regulation, said the new shutdown plan once again shows the Trump administration's desire to accommodate industry while its own employees are forced to work without pay. The plan also says if the shutdown extends past today, more employees will be designated as exempt to prepare for upcoming oil leasing sales in the Gulf of Mexico. They will be exempt "only for the amount of time needed to complete this work" and paid with carryover funds. "Failure to hold these sales would have a negative impact to the Treasury and negatively impact investment in the U.S. Offshore Gulf of Mexico," the plan says. Offshore wind lease sales, however, appear to be on hold. The updated contingency plan does not mention wind energy. Offshore wind industry sources told Bloomberg today that they are concerned the government shutdown could complicate development in the Northeast.
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