AP

Ian shows the risks and costs of living on barrier islands

Oct 1, 2022, 7:02 AM | Updated: 10:42 pm

David Muench sits with his birds after being rescued from Sanibel Island in the wake of Hurricane I...

David Muench sits with his birds after being rescued from Sanibel Island in the wake of Hurricane Ian, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

SANIBEL ISLAND, Fla. (AP) — When Hurricane Ian struck Florida’s Gulf Coast, it washed out the bottom level of David Muench’s home on the barrier island of Sanibel along with several cars, a Harley-Davidson and a boat.

His parents’ house was among those destroyed by the storm that killed at least two people there, and the lone bridge to the crescent-shaped island collapsed, cutting off access by car to the mainland for its 6,300 residents.

Hurricane Ian underscores the vulnerability of the nation’s barrier islands and the increasing costs of people living on the thin strips of land that parallel the coast. As hurricanes become more destructive, experts question whether such exposed communities can keep rebuilding in the face of climate change.

“This is a Hurricane Katrina-scale event, where you’re having to rebuild everything, including the infrastructure,” said Jesse M. Keenan, a real estate professor at Tulane University’s School of Architecture. “We can’t build back everything to what it was — we can’t afford that.”

Ian slammed into southwest Florida as a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday with among the highest windspeeds in U.S. history — in nearly the same spot where Hurricane Charley, also a Category 4, caused major damage in 2004.

Of the 50 tropical cyclones that have come within 100 nautical miles of the Fort Myers area since 1873, 23 have been hurricanes that passed within 75 miles (120 kilometers) of Sanibel Island, according to the city’s website. Each posed “a significant threat to property and lives on the island at some point in its life cycle.”

In 1921, a massive hurricane wiped out half of neighboring Captiva’s landmass and cut that island in two, according to the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village.

The latest storm has initiated a new cycle of damage and repair on Sanibel that’s played out on many other barrier islands, from the New Jersey shore and North Carolina’s Outer Banks to a ribbon of land along the Louisiana coast.

Barrier islands were never an ideal place for development, experts say. They typically form as waves deposit sediment off the mainland. And they move based on weather patterns and other ocean forces. Some even disappear.

Building on the islands and holding them in place with beach replenishment programs just makes them more vulnerable to destruction because they can no longer move, according to experts.

“They move at the whims of the storms,” said Anna Linhoss, a professor of biosystems engineering at Auburn University. “And if you build on them, you’re just waiting for a storm to take them away.”

After devastating parts Florida, Ian made landfall again in South Carolina, where Pawleys Island was among the hardest hit places. Friday’s winds and rains broke apart the barrier island’s main pier, one of several in the state to crumble and wash away.

On Saturday, homeowners in the beach community about 73 miles (120 kilometers) up the coast from Charleston struggled to assess damage from storm. The causeways connecting the island to the mainland were strewn with palm fronds, pine needles and even a kayak retrieved from a nearby shoreline.

Like Pawleys Island, many barrier island communities anchor long-entrenched tourist economies, which are often the source of crucial tax dollars. At the same time, the cost of rebuilding them is often high because they’re home to many expensive properties, such as vacation homes.

“When there’s a disaster like this, we will pour tens of billions of public dollars into these communities to help them rebuild,” said Robert S. Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, which is a joint venture between Duke University and Western Carolina University.

“And we will ask very little for that money in return in terms of taking a step back from places that are incredibly exposed to hazards and making sure that we never have this kind of a disaster again,” Young said.

But any big changes to the standard disaster response will be complicated, said Dawn Shirreffs, Florida director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Challenges could include decisions on who participates in programs that elevate flood-prone homes or programs that buy those homes and tear them down. Planting mangroves to prevent erosion could end up blocking someone’s view.

Many homeowners bought their properties before people were fully aware of climate change and the risks of sea-level rise, Shirreffs said.

Keenan, the Tulane professor, said Sanibel will undoubtedly be changed by Hurricane Ian, based on the research he’s done. There will be fewer government resources to help people rebuild. Those with fewer means and who are underinsured will likely move. People with financial means will stay.

“Sanibel will just be an enclave for the ultrawealthy,” Keenan said.

But Muench, the Sanibel resident, said homeowners and business owners are sure to rebuild their properties.

His family has owned and operated a campground on the island for three generations. The island, he said, is “paradise — we live in the most beautiful place on Earth.”

“We are going to continue to exist on Sanibel,” Muench, 52, said from Fort Myers on Friday after evacuating Sanibel. “Give us five years, and you might not even notice if you didn’t know.”

___

Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Associated Press reporters Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Meg Kinnard in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, contributed to this story.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington. The U.S. Supreme Court has h...

Associated Press

Supreme Court decision on Trump’s election status could come Monday morning

A SCOTUS decision could come Monday in the case about whether Trump can be kicked off the ballot over his efforts to undo his 2020 defeat.

14 hours ago

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley poses for a selfie after speakin...

Associated Press

Nikki Haley wins D.C. Republican primary, her first 2024 victory

Nikki Haley has won the Republican primary in the District of Columbia, notching her first victory of the 2024 campaign.

14 hours ago

An Apache group that has fought to protect land it considers sacred from a copper mining project in...

Associated Press

A US appeals court ruling could allow mine development in central Arizona on land sacred to Apaches

An Apache group that has fought to protect land from a copper mining project in central Arizona suffered a significant blow.

19 hours ago

On Friday, March 1, 2024, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said yogurt sold in the U.S. can ma...

Associated Press

Eating yogurt may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, FDA says

Eating at least two cups of yogurt a week might reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

21 hours ago

Arizona will not approve new housing construction on the fast-growing edges of metro Phoenix that r...

Associated Press

Arizona Senate passes plan to manage rural groundwater, but final success is uncertain

A plan to manage rural groundwater passed the Arizona Senate amid concerns about the availability of sufficient water for future generations.

3 days ago

A woman pauses while shopping at a Kohl's store in Clifton, N.J., Jan. 26, 2024. On Thursday, Feb. ...

Associated Press

Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge picked up last month in sign of still-elevated prices

An inflation gauge favored by the Federal Reserve increased in January, the latest sign that the slowdown in U.S. consumer price increases is occurring unevenly from month to month.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Ian shows the risks and costs of living on barrier islands