"Building again and again in this very sensitive flood plain will only achieve the same results â¿¿ flooding, and possibly untimely death," homeowner Tina Downer told about 200 of her neighbors who gathered to discuss a potential buyout program last week. "It is not safe for anyone to live there."
The problem has worsened in recent decades with an explosion of development near the nation's shorelines. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that in 2003, approximately 153 million people â¿¿ 53 percent of the nation's population â¿¿ lived in coastal counties, an increase of 33 million people since 1980. The agency forecasts 12 million more to join them by 2015.
Scientists say that putting so many people in the most vulnerable areas is a recipe for disaster.
Jon Miller, a professor of coastal engineering at New Jersey's Stevens Institute of technology, said retreating from the most vulnerable areas makes scientific sense. But he adds that the things that were built there â¿¿ beach clubs, boardwalks and amusement piers â¿¿ give communities their character, and fuel tourism and business.If buyouts did occur, he predicted they would happen in areas with lower property values because of the high cost of buying up prime coastal real estate. That could have the unintended consequence of placing the shore off-limits to all but the wealthy, he said. "I grew up in Rahway and I remember the controversy when several properties along the Rahway River were bought out due to repetitive flood losses," Miller said. "It was painful and caused dissension in the community." Residents feared not only being forced from their homes but also not getting enough money to purchase a suitable home in the same community, Miller said. A 1988 Duke University shore protection study cited a nor'easter that occurred in Sea Bright four years earlier, causing $82 million in damages â¿¿ about equal to the value of all the town's buildings at the time.