Why should we pay to help people live right on the ocean?

With Plum Island washing plum out to sea, David Robichaud asks the question.



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      A Human-Created Problem

      I would typically not support most attempts to prevent erosion, but in this case the erosion is not due to natural conditions. The erosion problem is nearly entirly related to the Army Corps of Engineers jetty projects on the Merrimack River and poor maintenance of those projects. The army corps was supposed to fix the issue years ago, and didn't.

      Some of these houses have been out there for longer than the jetties were. The jetties altered the flow from the Merrimack River that created Plum Island.

      My main problem is people

      My main problem is people who buy land in these areas and then build HUGE houses on that land. Ocean front property is going to have its issues. In the past, as the article said, maybe youd lose some cottage or campsit and life would go on. People need to be smart about where they build million dollar houses. If Global Warming is for real, which I believe it is, and tides rise by only an inch or so that would have the affect of swamping alot of this "prime real estate" we really should be playing with parcels of land that may not even be here 100 years from now. Im looking slightly inland, still close enough to the beach to visit, but high enough as not to be dramaticly affected by rogue waves.

      I also think that if you

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      I also think that if you build a multi-million dollar house on a sand bar, you shouldn't be surprised when it's no longer a sand bar.

      There's insurance for this, and if you can't get popper insurance because the property was too risky, that's a warning sign not to buy it in the first place.

      Coasts have a tendency to have the most geological changes over short times of anywhere. the view of the water is nice, but be prepared to pay the consequences for that view.

      Anyone know the exact

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      Anyone know the exact address of these houses? Google maps shows plum island with a very wide beach. If the satellite image is 2-3 years old it fits in with the news video showing a 2006 photograph with a very wide beach

      Because this isn't everyman for himself

      The same question could be asked about many homes in many disparate locations. Why should we all pay the costs of fire fighting for houses located in forests? Fires are a foreseeable natural phenomenon. How about efforts to control avalanches to protect people whose homes are in the mountains? Or efforts to control mudslides? Or nationally-subsidizing flood insurance?

      For that matter, why should we all pay for snow plowing in winter? Car crashes are foreseeable. Stay home, or plow it yourself.

      Because we're all in this together, that's why. Because if that were your home on Plum Island, you'd want help.

      And, no, I don't have a home there. I've never even been there.

      yes, yes, yes, yes, no.

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      You jumped the rails right between the floods and the snow plows.

      The distinction between "nationally-subsidizing flood insurance" and "snow plowing in winter" is that nobody in Alabama is paying for my street to get plowed. Nobody subsidizes our Massachusetts snow plows who doesn't live here. Snow plowing is a municipal service, budgeted each year out of the tax dollars of the people who benefit from the service.

      If a frequently flooded or burned municipality wants to set up flood or fire service in the same way, I'm all for it.

      Subsidizing insurance for coastal dwellers is a great wealth transfer from the less-wealthy to the more-wealthy (who else lives on the coast?). It also creates moral hazard and distorts rational decisions. Let people bear their own risks - they'll make more rational decisions and cost the rest of us less.

      That said, it seems many people believe the Plum Island problem is related to poor jetty maintenance, and I think it's fair for them to have that addressed.

      I'll stick with the Yes, but that wasn't my larger point

      I didn't mean to jump the rails. I meant to illustrate that there are a lot of things we all pay for to help assuage risks that generally belong to others. Of course, there's line drawing. If the Plum Island question was an attempt to open discussion on line-drawing, I understand. But I took it as, "Why are we bailing out those rich people?"

      Living on the coast has risks. So does living on Mount St. Helens. So does living in an unmanaged forest. So does living in a high-rise in Manhattan. Or in a flood plain. Or in a trailer park in Kansas. We spread the costs of safety. Sometimes rich people benefit. Sometimes poor people do.

      (In the snow-plowing case, I'm sure some of the plow money comes from federal dollars. Regardless, if everyone only paid for services he actually used, it would undercut schools, police, hospitals, etc.)

      The moral hazard argument is just line-drawing again. Short of anarchy, we're always creating some.

      Would you buy at the foot of a volcano?

      Of course not, and the same thing should go for buying near the water. You should look at everything before buying/building a house. Possible acts of Nature (and in the end, that is what this is) included.


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      While it's true that a healthy respect for Mother Nature has to be cultivated, one can hardly blame people who live in low-lying coastal areas, near big lakes that're sometimes below sea level, or in unmanaged forests, flood plains, or earthquake/avalanche-prone areas. When the United States was first settled by pioneers during its founding, the people who originally built many of these old houses, especially in low-lying coastal areas, etc., they didn't know enough to give Mother Nature her space and not build right smack near the water like that. That being said, it's partly due to the consequences of lack of knowledge.

      Also, the levees in many places have not been updated to withstand the kind of natural disasters we've had today. Katrina's a perfect example. New Orleans is a city that's at least 20 or 30 feet below sea-level, and the debacle that resulted from Katrina's horrific devastation of lNew Orleans and the Gulf Coast generally came about for several reasons:

      A) Over a hundred years of corrupt and inept politicians and politics in NOLA and the State of Louisiana generally

      B) Insensitive and inept responses on the part of state, national and local government.

      C) New Orleans, especially, was a disaster waiting to happen due to its distance below sea level, and the fact that the levees that were ostensibly built to keep the nearby lake from overflowing and flooding out the neighborhoods nearby were not updated and not built to withstand disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

      D) What I mentioned before also goes without saying: Way, way back, when those houses were built, most likely at or before the turn of the 19th or 20th century, people did not know enough to not build right smack near water, etc. That being said, one can hardly blame the people who had resided in those vulnerable houses prior to Katrina.

      All that being said, with more awareness and being more informed, people toiday should definitely know enough not to build right smack near the coast, in an unmanaged forest, etc.

      Well that explains the

      Well that explains the really old houses, that in many cases have seen a greater increase in price then the average house. It doesnt explain why building a luxury condo complex was a good idea lol.

      Thats how I feel about these

      Thats how I feel about these flood plains in the midwest as well, its not just coastal people. I think its silly that New Orleans is below sea level, and you can stand on the street and look up at boats as they flow past you on water that is over your head. I think its amazing when someone lives on something called a 50 year flood plain or a 100 year flood plain complains that there hasnt been a flood here for 100 years, and now it came out of nowhere! I took a few geology classes and a weather class in college and even from that small amount of exposure realized how many stupid people live in places they really shouldnt be living. Most major natural problems weve had recently were not fully unpredicted. Wild Fire zones are well known, sandy coasts erode, flood plains flood (DUH), volcanos erupt, major active fault lines cause earthquakes, and hurricanes flood low lying areas that are below sea level...

      Granted none of us is fully safe from natural disasters but there are varying degrees of safety. Rocky coasts are more protected then sandy coasts, so if you must live near the water find something that looks a little tougher. I feel bad for someone who has been out there for 50 years who thought the dozens of yards they lived away from the coast was enough, I have less sympathy for someone who moved in in the past 20 years with full knowledge (or the ability to find it) that the coast has changed, they had access to maps and photos of what once was.

      Devils you know

      Hurricanes! Typhoons! Earthquakes!SMOG!

      volcanos erupt, major active fault lines cause earthquakes, and hurricanes flood low lying areas that are below sea level...

      Here is the problem: some of these places have not seen any geologic or hydrologic action in historical record. Some flood plains account for historic floods, but not for the things people have done to rivers in the last half century. A few scientists speculated that St. Helens could erupt around the year 2000 ... and they were damn close as geologic time goes. Up to that time, I was taught that all the other volcanoes like Hood and Ranier were "extinct". Ha!

      We also now know that there are many fault lines around the northwest that nobody knew about. We never had earthquake drills at school because we never had earthquakes. But 9 years after I graduated, that lack of historic quakes didn't keep a high school in a neighboring district from collapsing in an earthquake on an unknown fault , or prevent my friend's parents from having to repair their house's foundation.

      What I find challenging is how people build large projects in areas with known hazards - like the New Madrid fault area - and won't fortify them against that hazard. Very bad news if your area has a history of extremely severe quakes every couple of hundred years and you know it (unlike the fairly recently discovered Cascadia Subduction Zone) and yet don't want to spend the money.


      There has been a push in recent years to bring Boston codes up to date with the seizmic risks, to encourage retrofitting as much as possible, as well as simulations and drills if that happened again.

      High-rise buildings are fairly safe - I'd worry most about unreinforced masonry buildings. See also "Starbucks Headquarters February 28 2001" for details.

      West Coast gloating

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      Earthquake risk: Boston beats San Francisco.

      Also, please note that by bringing this topic up, you have forced me to remind you that the greatest New England earthquake expert ever is BC's John Ebel, because in an earthquake, Ebel wobble but he don't fall down (one of these years, I'll finally get tired of saying that, but not this year).

      I remember reading once

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      ...that one of the most gigantic (but dormant) fault lines in the world runs right under Philadelphia.

      Imagine, a massive earthquake in Philly? It might do millions of dollars in civic improvements.