Hurricane impact researcher called to testify in Congress Nov. 8

CULLOWHEE – Nationally known hurricane impact researcher Rob Young, associate professor of geosciences at Western Carolina University, will travel to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress about the Coastal Barrier Resources Act.

Young, who has been studying the impact of hurricanes on the coastline for 20 years, will be testifying Tuesday, Nov. 8, at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) beginning at 10 a.m. Gilchrest is chairman of the Congressional Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans.

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act eliminates federal subsidies for flood insurance, transportation, utilities and erosion control to support any new development on barrier islands officially designated as “undeveloped.” The act is intended to shift away from the federal government the financial burden of building or rebuilding in high-risk coastal areas.

Young, who conducted two aerial surveys of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in September, will testify about his belief that the CBRA restrictions should be extended to include limits on disaster aid to developed, as well as undeveloped, coastal barriers and other shorelines.

“Continued federal disaster aid for rebuilding vulnerable coastal areas has cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in the last two years,” he said. “Irresponsible development of vulnerable coastal areas is becoming a burden on an already overburdened federal budget, as well as an environmental disaster.”

Young is calling for the creation of a Shoreline Retreat Advisory Commission patterned after the federal Base Realignment and Closing Commission that determines the fate of military bases. The ShRAC would be composed of objective scientists and coastal managers who would identify vulnerable shorelines that would be removed from future federal assistance.

“I believe that it is time to cut our ties with the most vulnerable of our nation’s coastal areas,” he said. “The highly vulnerable shorelines include places like North Topsail Island in my home state of North Carolina, Santa Rosa Island in Florida, and the west end of Dauphin Island in Alabama. The community of Waveland, Miss., has been destroyed twice in 35 years. These are all stretches of shoreline that are so unquestionably vulnerable to storm impact that they should never again receive federal tax dollars to rebuild buildings or infrastructure.”

Over 20 years, Young has conducted research on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the insurance industry through its Public Entity Risk Institute. He toured the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast on a trip funded in part by the Duke University Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. He also maintains the Coastal Hazards Information Clearinghouse, a Web-based resource for information about coastal hazards and detailed hazard maps of most U.S. shorelines.

Young has long advocated a new scale that would forecast with greater detail what happens when storms move on shore. While the Saffir-Simpson scale – which ranks hurricanes as category one to five depending upon barometric pressure, wind speed and storm surge – describes the absolute strength of a hurricane in the open ocean, it does a poor job of predicting the effect of a hurricane on the shore during landfall, he said. Young believes such factors as coastal geomorphology, storm history and other characteristics also play a major role in how destructive a particular storm may be.