Still Reeling from Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey Town Plans for Sequel

By Kirsten Howard and Allie Goldstein

July 20-21, 2014

Nearly two years after Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, the main drag in the town of Sea Bright, looks almost normal again. Beach-goers unload umbrellas and coolers from the oceanside parking lot. Restaurant-goers order brunch at the sidewalk cafes. Mrs. Rooney, the widow of Sea Bright’s former mayor, is stationed at her hot dog stand, which first opened in 1965. 

Sea Bright’s 1,400 or so permanent residents put on a good face to get the tourists that are the lifeblood of their economy back in town. But it only takes a slightly closer look to see the wounds below the band-aids.

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Walking the Floodplain to Protect Historic Portsmouth from Sea Level Rise

Portsmouth, NH

Kirsten Howard

With the road trip part of the Adaptation Stories project now complete, I’m walking along narrow brick lined streets through the Historic District of my new hometown: Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This quaint Atlantic Seacoast community was the third settled U.S. city, so the homes in the South End neighborhood are historic gems. Some played host to George Washington in the 1700s, while others housed factory workers in a more industrial era.

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On Flood and Thirst: How Communities Are Adapting to the Age of Unpredictable Water

In Keene, New Hampshire, Duncan Watson looks out the window with trepidation as rain pounds the glass of his office at the Public Works Department; in 2005, a flood in his hometown killed seven people. And across the country in Santa Fe, New Mexico, forest fuels specialist Bill Armstrong fears he’s losing a race against the clock to thin and prescriptively burn the tree-crowded national forest before a prolonged drought sets the stage for another mega-fire.

What do these two men have in common? They’re on opposite sides of the same coin, dealing with the consequences of what Watson calls a “caffeinated climate” in which change is not so much about the slowly rising thermostat, but about more pronounced extremes, from very wet to very dry.

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With New Rooftops, Chicago Tries to Keep Its Cool

Chicago, IL

August 19, 2013

The roof on top of Crane Technical High School on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago is blindingly white—so reflective that we’re squinting through our sunglasses. Installed by Knickerbocker Paving & Roofing Co., the 110,000-square-foot white roof is part of Chicago’s efforts to reverse the urban heat island effect that can make cities up to 10 degrees hotter than surrounding rural areas. From our vantage point, we can see a mosaic of light-colored roofs reflecting the sun’s rays away from the urban core.

The view from the white rooftop of Crane Technical High School

The view from the white rooftop of Crane Technical High School

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Rainwater Harvesters Reap Bounty in Arid Tucson

Tucson, AZ

July 19, 2013

Brad Lancaster describes the strip of vegetation beside the sidewalk outside his Tucson, Arizona home as “an orchard and a pharmacy.” The desert ironwood tree has peanut flavored seeds and blooms that make a delicious salad garnish. Creosote is good for athlete’s foot. Chuparosa has a red flower that tastes like cucumber. The barrel cactus’s yellow fruit can be used for chutneys or hair conditioner. Mesquite pods make nutritious flour. And many more. Depending on the season, Lancaster gets 10 to 20 percent of his food from this sidewalk garden, and another in his yard.

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Gulf Utility Invests in the True Value of Wetlands

The Gulf of Mexico

June 27 – July 2

Charlie Broussard, a shrimper on the docks in Cocodrie, Louisiana, has seen the wetlands he paddled through as a kid shift dramatically—literally. In fact, the Louisiana coastline is changing so quickly that fisherman and oil rig workers who have spent their lives navigating the bayou by boat sometimes get lost as familiar landmarks are drowned. In Louisiana, 1,880 square miles of land have vanished since the 1930s, and the current rate of land loss is equivalent to a football field every 38 minutes.

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In North Carolina, Sea Level Rise Is No Crystal Ball

Beaufort, North Carolina

June 19-20, 2013

On June 4, 2012, Stephen Colbert did what the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission could not: he made sea level rise sexy. In a five-and-a-half-minute spot titled “Sink or Swim,” Colbert poked fun at NC-20, a conservative group that pushed the NC state legislature to introduce a bill that would ban state agencies from considering anything more than historical data on sea level rise in future planning.

Colbert mocked NC-20’s logic with a pointed metaphor: “ If we consider only historical data, I’ve been alive my entire life, therefore I always will be.”

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Norfolk Rises Above the Rising Tide

Norfolk, Virginia

June 10, 2013

Everyone was dripping wet in the elevator on our way to the Flood Executive Group meeting in Norfolk, Virginia’s City Hall. A young man squeezed in on the third floor.

“I’m thinking of going for a swim today after work—right off my front porch,” he joked.

Norfolk has the distinction of being in the second most vulnerable metropolitan area in the U.S.—after New Orleans—to sea level rise, so quips about flooding are common. But, unfortunately, there is always some truth to the banter: even the day’s intermittent thundershowers would lead to flash floods in some neighborhoods.

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Delaware’s Beach Houses Surf, Then Freeboard

Lewes and Bethany Beach, Delaware

June 7-9, 2013

When Arthur and Roberta Leib returned to Bethany Beach, Delaware after the Great March Storm of 1962, instead of finding their army-surplus house in its usual grassy lot off 5th Street, they encountered it surfing among the downed utility wires at the intersection of 5th and Pennsylvania. Fortunately, they were able to retrieve the house and move it back to “higher ground,” which according to their son, Jeff Leib, consisted of the foot or two of sand that had blown into the lot with the Nor’easter winds. Thanks to this recovery, we were able to enjoy a few days at the beach in the quaint, blue house with an adventurous spirit. Of course, not every house was so lucky. Continue reading

Keeping Baltimore Neighborhoods Cool

Baltimore, Maryland

June 4, 2013

Baltimore is known as the “city of neighborhoods.” Kristin Baja, the new Hazard Mitigation and Adaptation Planner for the city, is working on learning the names of all 225 of them. She’s eight months into job and doing pretty well so far—as we drive around the city, she’s rattling off names: Patterson Park, the Middle East, Four By Four (which is actually a four block by four block square), Oliver, Ellwood Park. Easier than memorizing neighborhoods, though, is figuring out what areas of the city are in need of more tree canopy. These are the areas with no respite of shade during extreme heat events.

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Patience After the Superstorm

June 3, 2013

New Rochelle, New York

Last October, Hurricane Sandy ripped through New Rochelle, New York, on Long Island Sound, leaving two-thirds of residents without power. Traffic lights hung blank-faced in the streets. Families intent on going out trick-or-treating two days after the storm were cautioned to avoid downed wires

“Boats were deposited in places we never ever thought we’d see in our lifetime,” said Bill Zimmerman, New Rochelle’s Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Continue reading

Podcast: Solar Company ‘Empowers’ New York After Sandy

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Allie Goldstein: This is Allie Goldstein and Kirsten Howard of Adaptation Stories. On June 3, 2013, we visited Island Park, New York on the South Shore of Long Island. We met with David Schieren who cofounded Empower Solar along with Greg Sachs in 2003. Empower’s core business is the design and installation of solar power systems, which they do across New York City and the surrounding region. That business was compromised—temporarily—when Hurricane Sandy hit New York on October 29, 2012. We spoke with David about Empower’s story of resilience, which had some surprising twists and turns. I’ll let him tell it to you. Continue reading

Cape Codders Take Down Parking Lots, Put Up Paradise

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

May 28-29, 2013

On Cape Cod, the 15-town peninsula jutting off of mainland Massachusetts, ‘pahking lots’—or parking lots as they are known by some—are a big deal.

“In the off-season, it’s a daily routine for people to grab a newspaper, a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, a ‘nip’ if they need it from the liquor store next door, and drive down to the Paine’s Creek parking lot to watch the sunset,” said Jim Gallagher, the Conservation Administrator for the Town of Brewster. Although Gallagher was mostly joking about the ‘nip’ part, sure enough, as we interviewed him about beach erosion at Ellis Landing, a construction worker pulled his truck up to the edge of the parking lot to eat his lunch facing the waves. Continue reading

Climate-Ready Spaulding Hospital Will Keep Boston Strong

Boston, Massachusetts

May 30, 2013

Forward-thinking institutions like Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, which opened its doors April 2013, are using lessons learned from hospitals in other cities to prepare for natural disasters.

spaulding

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For Vermont Farmers, the Road to Resilience Is Winding

Cuttingsville and Burlington Vermont

May 24-27, 2013

It takes us an entire morning and part of an afternoon to find Evening Song Farm. I think they got wiped out by the flood, the owner of a sandwich shop in Cuttingsville, Vermont shrugs. A few miles down the road, we find Evening Song’s faded sign. No answer at the door. A woman at the garden shop tells us to cross the bridge and then the railroad tracks, turn right onto a dirt road, and follow it to the top.

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‘Live Free’ Spirit Could Keep Keene, NH Afloat

Keene, New Hampshire

Thursday, May 23

Duncan Watson and André both get the jitters when it rains. For Watson, Assistant Director of Public Works for Keene, New Hampshire, heavy precipitation events bring back memories of the massive storm the city experienced in October 2005 that dumped 11 inches of rain in 24 hours. Near Watson’s house, the Cold River overflowed, unleashing a 20-foot tall wall of water that wiped out many homes and killed seven people.

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Ann Arbor’s Climate-Smart Stormwater Utility

Ann Arbor, Michigan

May 16-20, 2013

We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees. In fact, the opposite is probably more true, as maintaining urban canopies and parks is a major expense for many local governments. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, a newly structured stormwater utility is helping the City pay for its namesake—and prompting residents to think differently about the connection between their land, water, and trees.

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Grand Rapids: A Little Riverside City with A Big Sustainability Punch

Grand Rapids, Michigan

May 15, 2013

Sitting in a conference room in the midst of Grand Rapids’ state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant, Mike Lunn, the Director of the City’s Environmental Services Department, tells us a story. It’s a universal story—one that applies to countless towns and cities as they cropped up across America:

First, in the late 1800s, they just sent raw sewage in pipes straight down to the river. When the city started smelling unpleasant, some bright individuals combined the sewer pipe system with the rainwater system, allowing the rain to naturally flush out the sewage pipes. But eventually, the river’s foul odor was too harsh on the olfactory glands, so they ran the pipes parallel along the riverbed, sending the sewage downstream. After a while the neighbors complained, so, in the 1930s, they built the first wastewater treatment plant to clean the sewage water before it reached the river.

In some cities, the story more or less ends there. But in Grand Rapids, the Environmental Service Department’s (ESD) attitude is that the plant’s processes need to be continually improving.

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Dropping Lake Levels Cause Pentwater Residents to Innovate

Pentwater, Michigan

May 13-14, 2013

Long-time residents of Pentwater, Michigan—population 847 as of the last census—have seen many changes over the years, from the array of windmills sited in their fruit orchards to tourists descending on what used to be a sleepy one-room schoolhouse village beside Michigan’s majestic freshwater ocean. Yet 10 o’clock coffee remains unchanged by the decades. A group of a couple dozen Pentwater men have been meeting at a local coffee shop six days a week since coffee was a dime a cup. ‘The Ladies’ started their own coffee club a few decades ago, but sit at a separate table at Good Stuffs, a local café.

“Come to 10 o’clock coffee to find out what’s going on. If not, come the next day,” Jack Patterson, owner of Patterson Marina, told us over a cup. Continue reading