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Government officials battle homeowners in race to protect coastal state from impending disaster: 'I'm very concerned'

"When you have a break in the chain, then all of the work that you're doing is not as impactful."

"When you have a break in the chain, then all of the work that you're doing is not as impactful."

Photo Credit: iStock

Residents of coastal Florida are finding themselves stuck as they're faced with leaving their homes vulnerable to increasingly strong hurricanes or granting public beach access that will allow for federal restoration.

What's happening?

Many towns are at risk of damage and flooding because of increasingly severe storms in the Gulf of Mexico, as Grist reported. While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers typically handles restoration for these areas, it cannot haul in thousands of tons of sand to complete these projects unless property owners grant easements to their private slivers of shore. Unfortunately, many people are refusing to allow such access.

According to Grist, this has caused restoration and damage prevention efforts to come to a "near standstill."

"Our coastlines are the first line of defense against storms, and our Gulf beaches are just eroding away," Lisa Hendrickson, the mayor of Redington Shores told the outlet. "I don't know where we go with it now, or how we come together to work through it."

Why is this concerning?

Though some property owners have granted the Corps access, the agency won't move forward until it has signatures from everybody — and that's nowhere close to happening.

Grist reported that last month, Sen. Rick Scott sent the Corps a letter asking it to adjust its easement policy, writing that "further delays on these projects could cause catastrophic damage to … coastal communities."

René Flowers, a Pinellas County commissioner, told Grist, "When you have a break in the chain, then all of the work that you're doing is not as impactful in protecting as it would be."

What's particularly worrying is that severe weather events are increasing because of climate-related factors and global heating — and tensions such as these may foreshadow the difficulties of navigating urgent repairs in other parts of the world.

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"I'm very concerned for those homeowners out there who will be impacted because perhaps their neighbor has opted not to allow access," Flowers said

What's being done about this?

Some people have suggested avoiding the path of the Corps-driven restoration altogether in favor of county-funded repair efforts. Other counties, including some along North Carolina's Outer Banks, have levied tourism taxes to pay for similar efforts, as WRAL reported.

Rob Young, a professor at Western Carolina University, told Grist, "For a lot of people, the privacy is more important to them than the risk of destruction." Instead, he said, "The solution is very easy — pay for your own risk."

Meanwhile, several companies have come up with creative solutions, constructing floating homes and office buildings to make coastal communities more resilient against extreme weather and hurricanes. In South Carolina, a team from the nonprofit Force Blue has installed "smart reefs" to provide real-time information about ocean conditions to protect communities from storm surges and sea level rise.

And while not every community is specifically at risk of hurricanes, nearly every city is facing increased threats from climate-intensified storms and weather events. This makes it critical to work to decrease your own footprint and slow global heating, whether by growing your own food, switching to an EV, ditching single-use plastics, or using a green bank, among many other positive climate actions.

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