Shore Homeowners Contend With Rising Seas

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Beach at Cape May on the New Jersey shore
The beach at Cape May, New Jersey (Photo by Liz Spikol)

Judy Kroll has owned or rented beach homes in Margate, New Jersey, for more than two decades.

Margate is where her son, Max, took his first steps. It’s where’s she likes to, as she put it, boogie board and get her hair wet. Over the years, she has noticed that the tide comes up higher on the beach than it used to, but when asked if she sees more flooding now than before, she sounds uncertain.

“More? I don’t know,” Kroll said. “Yeah, I mean, I guess so.”

For Jewish families in the Philadelphia area, going “down the shore” is a tradition. “We’re Jewish from Philly,” explained Brett Goldman, whose family has owned a home in Ventnor since the ’80s. “That’s what we do on the weekends.”

Global average sea level has risen about 8 inches since 1900, according to Rutgers University’s Robert Kopp, Karl Nordstrom and Johnny Quipse, writing for nj.com. But in New Jersey, where the land is also sinking, that process is happening even faster, and sea level has risen about 1.4 feet, or close to 17 inches, since 1900.

By 2050, that’s expected to increase by an additional 1 to 2 feet. Beyond then, making predictions is challenging, the article said, because of some unpredictable factors — mainly how sensitive polar ice sheets are to global warming, and whether people decide to take steps to curb climate change.

This rise has led to a substantial increase in the frequency of minor tidal flooding, which will continue to become more common, said Kopp, director of Rutgers’ Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. Meanwhile, storms also cause more severe flooding.

Kopp said that projects like elevating homes and buildings dunes will work to offset the effects of sea level rise, but he sees it as a short-term solution.

“That’s the goal, and preferably it’s something that’ll work for a couple decades, but not something that’ll get us through to the generation beyond that,” Kopp said.

Heat map demonstrating property value loss with the most concentrated dark spots in New Jersey. Florida also has a lot
Heat map demonstrating property value loss (Image courtesy of First Street Foundation)

Earlier this year, a study from Columbia University and First Street Foundation, a nonprofit that calculates flood risk, found that Ocean City, New Jersey, had lost more than $530 million in home value as a result of increased tidal flooding — more than any other city on the Atlantic Coast. That was followed by Miami Beach at more than $337 million. Florida was the state that had experienced the greatest loss in home value at $5.4 billion, followed by New Jersey at $4.5 billion.

The study examined the impact of tidal flooding on real estate in states along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Mississippi. In total, it found that $15.8 billion in home value had been lost along the Atlantic Coast. Steven A. McAlpine, head of data science at First Street Foundation, said they used tidal flooding risk data, as well as real estate models, to control for other contributing factors, for this study.

The impact on the shore is great, not only because of sea level rise, but also because of the quantity of high-value real estate concentrated there, McAlpine said. But that loss doesn’t mean that home value is decreasing. It just means that it isn’t increasing as much as it could be.

“So much of the conversation around sea level rise and flooding has been about South Florida,” McAlpine said. “Everyone’s heard Miami has a lot of risk, Miami Beach in particular, but Miami Beach has done a lot to deal with it. They still have a lot of low elevation areas at risk, but when we ran this analysis on the whole tri-state area and found that Ocean City, New Jersey, had more home value impact, or property value impact, than any other city we analyzed so far, it stood out to us. Also, though, Ocean City is not alone. A lot of the Jersey shore has the same characteristics of these highly valuable properties at incredibly low elevation that are sensitive to sea level rise.”

Lance B. Landgraf Jr., Ventnor City commissioner of public works and construction, said that sea level rise has led to more intense and frequent higher tides. The dunes built along the shore help protect homes from ocean flooding, but most of the Jersey shore’s flooding comes from the back bay, Landgraf said, which isn’t well protected. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of evaluating the back bay to address flooding there, he said.

“You’re not going to stop [it] because it’s the ocean,” Landgraf said. “Mother Nature is something you can push back against, but she’s going to win. The aspect of stopping it completely is not going to happen, in my opinion, but you take measures. A lot of homes after Hurricane Sandy have been elevated on the barrier islands.”

Not everyone is concerned about sea level rise, though.

Bart Blatstein, a real estate developer and owner of the Showboat Hotel in Atlantic City, said he hasn’t seen any changes over the years.

“It’s not an issue, it’s not been an issue and nobody discusses it,” Blatstein said.

Goldman, on the other hand, said climate change and sea level rise is a regular topic of conversation between him and his friends, especially when they go to the shore. As a 34-year-old, he sees it as a challenge his generation will have to confront.

“If we ignore the issue, if we ignore climate change for political reasons or reasons of ignorance, we’re still going to have to deal with it,” he said.

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1 COMMENT

  1. That is the way it is in life. You buy property in a flood plain or on top of a cliff bordering the ocean or one next to the beach. You are the one to blame, no one else. Your chosen loss, not society. Join Gamblers Anonymous before buying another property.

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