One does not simply look at a ten day forecast and expect the 10th day to be exactly as predicted, because forecasts are subject to change. It is with this basic notion in mind that many North Carolinians have questioned the purpose of House Bill 819, short titled Coastal Management Policies. The bill has also been ridiculed nationwide, including a segment on the satiric Colbert Report. Scientific American, in a blog post entitled “N.C. Considers Making Sea Rise Illegal,” compared the legislation to the Catholic Church’s repression of Galileo during the Renaissance.
The controversy stems from the language of the newly proposed § 113A‑107.1 entitled “Sea‑level policy restrictions; calculation of rate of sea‑level rise.” Section (c) would prevent the Costal Resources Commission (hereinafter, the Commission) from considering “scenarios of accelerated rates of sea level rise unless such rates are from statistically significant, peer-reviewed data and are consistent with historic trends” (emphasis added). This means that the State is required to rely upon sea level forecasts based on past patterns to the exclusion of newer projections. Additionally, the bill would remove the State’s ability to consider adopting newer projections should past patterns not conform to modern trends.
In order to understand why there is controversy over a commission many residents who live West of I-95 may have never heard of, it is important to appreciate the power and influence of the Commission.
The Commission is established under the Pollution Control and Environment section pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 113A-104. Among other duties, the Commission is tasked with establishing state guidelines for the coastal area. These guidelines are considered statements of objectives, policies, and standards to be followed in public and private use of land and water areas within the coastal areas. The planning processes covered by the Commission include the development and adoption of land-use plans for each county within the coastal area. All local land-use plans adopted under the Coastal Resource Commission’s authority must be consistent with the State guidelines.
In an online post, Spencer Rogers, who is a long-time member of the North Carolina’s Science Panel on Coastal Hazards (SPCH) and the N.C. Coastal Resources Advisory Council quantified what “historic trends” mean in laymen’s terms. The historical rate of sea-level rise at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers research pier in Duck has been a little more than the thickness of 2 nickels — stacked flat, on top of one another — per year. Over the next 100 years, that would add up to 8 inches of increased sea level. This estimate falls drastically short of the SPCH’s initial recommendation that the State should use a planning target of 1 meter, or 39 inches, by 2100.
If the legislation stays in its current form, real estate developers and agents are poised to make financial gains. “Neither myself nor my buyers are worried about what happens 100 years from now,” real estate agent Kenny Steen says. He further adds, “But we can’t move forward, or in any direction but to the mountains if every six months there’s a new report that someone thinks based on some model that in some time, there’ll be no more beachfront property.”
Steen speaks to the heart of the issue when he discusses how foreboding forecasts can hurt economic interests. However, it is not only the monetary interests of private individuals at stake. Should there be a repeat of Hurricane Irene which washed away part of the N.C. 12 road along the Outer Banks, public officials may be more prudent in allocating limited funding for roads based on the forecasts of tomorrow as opposed to yesterday.