Communities are doing something about sea-level rise

I would like to compliment The News & Observer following last week’s Community Voices panel discussion on sea-level rise and the threat this presents to the coast. The issue is real and the event provided a tremendous opportunity to learn.

The purpose of this piece is not to dispute the reality of sea-level rise. It is real, and irrespective of what people believe is the cause, North Carolina needs to come to grips with what we will face in the future.

A concern with the current dialogue on sea-level rise in North Carolina is the idea that state, county and local governments are doing nothing. I believe this perception was reinforced at the panel last week.

The following actions/initiatives are taking place in Pine Knoll Shores in Carteret County right now. These are not unique to Pine Knoll Shores, and many are taking place in communities up and down the coast today.

▪ With the help of a NOAA Coastal Management Fellow, we are conducting a Resilience Evaluation and Needs assessment. A key part of this assessment is the discussion of adaption and mitigation strategies to include impacts from sea level rise.

▪ Our Inspections Department maintains elevation certificates for new buildings.

▪ We proved information to our residents on the latest flood insurance rate maps.

▪ With the N.C. Coastal Federation, we are working on an EPA-approved Watershed Plan in order to develop stormwater runoff reductions techniques to reduce flooding, restore natural hydrology and improve the uses of our waters for swimming and shellfishing.

▪ We enforce regulations requiring a 2-foot freeboard (all new and substantially improved property must be built 2 feet above base flood elevation).

▪ We maintain and use GIS mapping for day-to-day management of the floodplain.

▪ We enforce regulations for soil and erosion control and water quality.

▪ Our drainage system is inspected and maintained by our Public Works Department annually.

▪ We enforce North Carolina’s Coastal Area Management Act by ensuring appropriate setbacks on the oceanfront are maintained.

▪ We are certified by the National Weather Service as a Storm Ready Community.

▪ Using social media we make great efforts for the early identification of flooding threats and provide timely warnings for floods and storms to protect life and property.

▪ The town’s Strategic Planning Committee has identified sea-level rise as an emerging issue and is committed to learning all it can on this issue and doing what is possible to prepare for rising seas.

Could this list be improved upon with additional actions? Of course. Could we be doing better in some of these areas? Again, the answer is yes. With necessary and critical help of scientists, academics and engineers we welcome the chance to take reasonable and practical steps to be ready for what is clearly coming. But are we doing “nothing”? The answer here is no.

What our scientists and academics need to understand is just as they criticize deniers of sea-level rise and climate change, they further this political divide by saying, directly or indirectly, that nothing is being done about sea-level rise on the coast in North Carolina.

A very interesting point that came out of the panel discussion last week was the responsibility of the scientific community to provide realistic and practical recommendations to the coast. Recommending “retreating” from the coast is neither realistic nor practical. A $6 billion annual economic impact to North Carolina, thousands of jobs, and the age-old human desire to live, work and play near the sea won’t allow for this. Such comments only further the political divide on this very real issue.

A great first step, which was articulated so well last week by Dr. Riggs, is education. Education and thinking “higher/harder/smarter” is the key here. We need the help of scientists and academics to do this, without accusing us of doing nothing and having our heads in the sand (no pun intended).

Brian Kramer is the town manager of Pine Knoll Shores.

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