2013-03-29 / Top Stories

Surfriders Under The Dome

By Dan Guarino

Meg Caldwell, Director of the Center for Ocean Solutions and an expert in environmental law, and Dr. Chad Nelson, Environmental Director of the Surfrider Foundation, speak to a capacity crowd at the MoMA PS1 VW Dome. Photo by Laura Deckelman. Meg Caldwell, Director of the Center for Ocean Solutions and an expert in environmental law, and Dr. Chad Nelson, Environmental Director of the Surfrider Foundation, speak to a capacity crowd at the MoMA PS1 VW Dome. Photo by Laura Deckelman. An audience of more than 80 people welcomed a presentation by the Surfrider Foundation, one of the first at the MoMA PS1 VW Dome, on Sunday, March 24th.

Dr. Chad Nelson, Environmental Director of the Surfrider Foundation, and Board of Director’s member Meg Caldwell, spoke about issues not only relevant to post- Sandy’s Rockaway, but also to coastal communities all over the U.S. and beyond.

The Surfrider Foundation, begun more than 25 years ago, is made up of more than 84 volunteer chapters across the U.S. and around the globe.

“We are not only dedicated to protection of the shore” Nelson said, “but also enjoyment of the shore.”

He said that the group’s four main focus areas are water quality issues, ocean protection, wise coastal development and free and open beach access for all.

As Nelson expressed it, in the face of rising sea levels, changes in weather patterns and more frequent events like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, “The $64,000 question is: what are we going to do about?”

Noting conditions that ocean-facing communities will contend with such as rising sea levels, higher population densities and shifting hurricane patterns, Nelson observed, “Every time they revise the models, it’s “Ok, wow, it’s going to be worse than we expected.”

Possible solutions would include pumping sand back onto the beaches (very expensive, with debatable results) building armoring along the coast (potentially losing the beach) or moving back from the beach.

Showing an image of the relocated Cape Hatteras lighthouse, Nelson observed, “Obviously it’s easier to move a lighthouse than a national park or a whole community.

“I think we all recognize we’ve got to do things differently. We can’t just rebuild it back the way it was,” he said.

Showing examples of different adaptive approaches in other areas, he suggested there may be many creative solutions to these problems.

The Surfrider Foundation’s efforts regarding the East Coast’s recovery from Sandy are focused on providing intelligent commentary on federal response, monitoring of all projects, demanding transparency and encouraging community involvement in all phases.

Caldwell, who is also Executive Director of the Center for Ocean Solutions and Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Policy Program at Stanford Law School, also spoke at the event.

She addressed a number of important questions the global scientific community feels are vital in rebuilding and that residents should be asking during the rebuilding process.

As proposed projects move forward, she said, communities should be asking if they will increase greenhouse gas emissions and thereby increase the overall problem. Also, would the project create a disproportionate burden for the most vulnerable members of the community- those on limited incomes, for instance, or those whose houses might be directly affected by coastal changes?

Further, she asked, “Will the project reinforce those really good social behaviors,” like conservation and recycling, that ultimately help the community.

Lastly she asked, “What is the true cost of the project?” Looking at the bigger picture, this would include environmental costs, health costs, long range economic costs and more.

“These are questions for communities to ask at times like this.”

Speaking about how the Rockaway community has already begun to step forward in this process, Caldwell said, “The presumption is that you will be engaged, but we can’t take that for granted.

“Going forward, there may need to be a change in the norms of how government operates; that it is expected that you will be engaged.”

The lively afternoon became a true dialogue as questions often sparked answers from audience members such as Dan Mundy Sr., Peter Corless, Joe Hartigan and others who added their expertise to the discussion.

For instance, Mundy offered that www.NYC.gov is an excellent source for online information regarding current rebuilding issues.

Facebook’s “Rockaways –Hurricane Sandy News” page is also adding links to as many other informative sites as possible.

Caldwell also pointed out that there are many examples worldwide where various solutions have already been put in place. The East coast has the advantage of being able to observe how they worked and also how they didn’t work in the long run.

Noting the unique character of the area, she concluded, “As New Yorkers, you can demand involvement in your coastal management planning.

“You could decide that the coastal communities of New York should work together and make these chan

  The Surfrider Foundation event was organized and presented by the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance. It continues RWA’s Environmental Resiliency series. Over the past several months, the informative lectures have brought together experts in the field and community members to share information and discuss various ideas on rebuilding the Rockaways wisely.

    For more information, go to www.rwalliance.org.



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