Friday, March 9, 2012

This past August, Hurricane Irene hit the United State with a ferocity not seen since Hurricane Katrina. While Irene was much less devastating, she still shut down masses of airports, flooded roads, destroyed homes and business, and killed at least 21 people. Even now, the aftermath lingers in the form of a political battle in North Carolina.
        Highway 12 connects the Outer Banks, North Carolina's chain of barrier islands and highly popular tourist destination, to the rest of the state. The highway provides the primary access to and from the islands. However, because the barrier islands themselves are unstable, and due to Highway 12's proximity to the coast, large portions of it were ruined in the hurricane (see this link for cool before and after photos, scroll down to the bottom). This NYTimes article focuses on Hatteras Island, one of the most popular destinations and one that has no access other than Highway 12.
Image courtesy of Damage to Highway 12 following Hurricane Irene
Critics are saying that NC should not be focusing so much money on repairing a highway that is bound to get a similar treatment in the next hurricane. Dr. Young, a coastal scientist, sums up the situation very succinctly: They can engineer that bridge so well that it can withstand a Category 3 or 4 hurricane...The barrier island it is connected to cannot.” Professor Stanley Riggs, another coastal scientist who wrote "The Battle for North Carolina's Coast", claims Highway 12 "will bankrupt the state".  His book claims that between 1983 and now, NC has spent at least $93 million on Highway 12 maintenance. The NYTimes says that in 2011 alone, the Outer Banks brought in $2.6 billion through tourism. That doesn't sound like bankrupting to me, instead that sounds more like the state making $250,700,000. Is it ecologically sound? No. Economically? Sure seems like it. Young and Riggs do have a point that it is not environmentally sound policy to build ontop of sand that is supposed to shift with waves, but they need to start using arguments beyond how much money Highway 12 costs in order to be convincing.

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