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Responding to Sandy

March 29 2013 | Coastal Preservation, Beach Dredge & Fill, Shoreline Armoring,
by Chad Nelsen

Almost five months after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Northeast, people in coastal communities are still trying to put their lives back together. While the immediacy of getting water, shelter and power have subsided for most,  the wreckage and damage to homes and business is still staggering. As the video below describes, many are now trying to reestablish their lives, rebuild their homes and businesses while being pounded by steady stream of Nor'easters.  The only upside to the continual winter storms is that they have produced one of the most memorable surf seasons in years. 

Storm damage near Seaside, NJ. Photo: Lesley Ewing

Epic but cold surf in New Jersey. Photo from Instagram: @hammered_sam 

I just returned from a four-day visit to the coast in New York and New Jersey to hold a workshop with Surfrider chapter activists, coastal experts, partners and other community activists to develop a plan for the next phase of coastal recovery.

I also joined Jon and Jack Rose, the amazing father-son duo from Waves for Water who have been leading the grassroots Hurricane Sandy Relief Initiative since the storm hit.

Jon, Jack and Catherine from Waves for Water and Nick Lynn from Surfrider NYC chapter loading dry wall into one of W4W's storage trucks. 

It’s truly amazing that almost five months since Hurricane Sandy slammed into the northeast, there are still so many unmet basic recovery needs. Hundreds of homes still lie in waste, debris is everywhere, sand of questionable quality is being pushed back onto beaches, boardwalks are being rebuilt in some places, while local businesses scramble to rebuild before the summer tourism season. It’s a real challenge to balance the competing interests and urgency of rebuilding with thoughtful planning to make the necessary changes to avoid a similar disaster in the future.

Activist Humanitarian Response:

Led by Waves for Water’s Hurricane Sandy Relief Initiative, many local heroes, including Surfrider chapter activists, did an amazing job in November and December of supplying basic needs and gutting flooded homes. Literally thousands of people in New York and New Jersey chipped in over those two months.  This work wound down because homes were getting moldy and potentially dangerous to enter. The response then refocused on helping communities get back on their feet.

Waves for Water’s list of accomplishments is truly astounding. Some stats include:

  • 250,000+ individual, families, and businesses helped
  • $1.1+ million in monetary donations
  • $3 million in product donations
  • 33,000+ W4W affiliated volunteer events
  • 5250+ homes worked on (dug out, demo and debris removal, etc.)
  • 6 Relief Centers created

Check out their Impact Report to get a more comprehensive update here (.pdf)

Coastal Response:

Since Hurricane Sandy hit we have been making efforts to influence the way that the coast is rebuilt so that coastal environmental issues and community input are considered. It's a difficult task because the need to protect lives and homes must be balanced with environmental and recreational considerations.

Thus far we have joined national and local groups to try and ensure federal disaster relief money supports smart rebuilding and doesn't provide a blank check to the Corps.  We joined a coalition of New Jersey environmental groups to put forth guiding principles for rebuilding in the aftermath of Sandy. We testified on a package of response bills in the New Jersey legislature, have been working on a project specific to rebuilding the boardwalk in Long Beach, NY and have had a chapter activist appointed to the erosion control committee in East Hamption, NY. Staff and volunteers also met with Army Corps and state officials on several occasions in the region. 

Next steps:

We just wrapped up a day-long workshop in Long Beach, NY where chapter representatives from New York, New Jersey and Delaware worked with coastal experts, partner organizations and Surfrider staff to create a set of principles to guide rebuilding the New York – New Jersey region and future regions hit by hurricanes.

The next phase of federal response from the Corps of Engineers, FEMA and other federal agencies will be guided by something called the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF). This is a new process so the opportunities for public input are not clear yet. We intend to change that. 

This will form the basis for a regional campaign asking the public and coastal agencies to rethink how we live and use the coast. That is our biggest challenge. The world's climate is changing and increased sea level rise and storms are the new normal. The big question remains - what are we willing to do differently to avoid this tragedy from happening again in the northeast or elsewhere? Can we create resilient coasts?

We will be providing updates on how local communities in New York and New Jersey can influence the next stage of rebuilding. We are doing this homework now. 

What you can do:

If you are local to the region, tune in to our five chapters in New York and New Jersey. They are run by volunteers and could use your help.  In addition, we are going to continue to coordinate with Waves for Water. Their relief efforts are also largely run by volunteers who could use the support.

If you are not local, join the Surfrider Foundation. There is power in numbers and we can use your support for our local campaign to help rethink the New Jersey and New York coasts. You can also check out Waves for Water’s projects and support those.

Last, stay tuned. We will be providing regular updates and a plan of action very soon.

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