Are the Costs of Resiliency Worthwhile?
The added costs for more resilient infrastructure are causing tension as coastal communities grapple with how to recover, and to what extent, after devastating storms such as Sandy.
After being nearly demolished by Superstorm Sandy, one waterfront hotel in Westerly becomes an open-air restaurant; two small restaurants become mobile operations that pack up when a storm approaches. A coastal city in Virginia considers designating “retreat zones,” areas of the community where it can no longer fight sea level rise and flooding. A marina builds sturdier docks with deeper pilings. The city of Hoboken, N.J., installs flood pumps and designs parks and playgrounds to serve double duty as flood and stormwater storage areas.
These were some of the adaptation measures described at the day-long Ronald C. Baird Sea Grant Science Symposium, “Staying Afloat: Adapting Waterfront Businesses to Rising Seas and Extreme Storms” held at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University.
Some of the liveliest discussion at the symposium surrounded costs—the expenses of cleaning up after a storm as well as of constructing more resilient buildings.
“Providence has a feasibility problem” in that unlike in stronger real estate markets, there is a 30 percent gap between the money that developers can raise and the cost to build.
Chuck Miccolis, senior engineering manager, commercial lines, for the Institute for Business and Home Safety, an insurance industry organization, showed a video of two adjacent commercial buildings that were constructed to demonstrate the differences between a structure built using common methods and one that, using the same materials, incorporated resilient techniques. Both were mechanically subjected to high winds. The roof on the “common” building began to peel off. Once the windows were broken, one side of the building soon collapsed. The “stronger” building maintained its roof, and as the wind was unable to breach the “skin” of the building, such as by shattering the glass, that building withstood far less damage. When the demonstration was over, Miccolis said that the stronger building cost 5 percent more to build, but only suffered about $4,000 worth of damage compared to over $40,000 worth of damage to the standard building.
(The video can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6eWqvGac5U&list=UUbpE9lffxgy_0H0fMU8fKwA)
The idea that 5 percent was a small additional cost, however, was challenged later by Jan Brodie, executive director of the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, who said that when buildings cost $50 million to build, 5 percent adds up to a not-insignificant $2.5 million. She added that “Providence has a feasibility problem” in that unlike in stronger real estate markets, there is a 30 percent gap between the money that developers can raise and the cost to build.
Miccolis responded that for larger buildings costing $50 million to $60 million, the added costs of resiliency could be as low as 1 percent.
Stephen Marks, municipal manager of Hoboken, N.J., described another contentious expense—the cost of installing flooding pumps in the city after Superstorm Sandy. The city received funding for the first pump from federal stimulus money. Two years after Sandy, a second pump, to be funded by a municipal bond, was only narrowly approved, a result he attributed to possible “storm fatigue” or “amnesia.”
Getting Back to Business: Lessons Learned from the Westerly Chamber of Commerce After Sandy
1. Learn about climate change, flooding and erosion – understand the problem before thinking about solutions.
2. Get to know your neighbors and your businesses before disaster happens – a strong community helps with recovery.
3. Establish mental and emotional health services for people enduring these disasters, as emotional recovery is just as important.
In the beachfront community of Misquamicut, Lisa Konicki, executive director of the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce, said that businesses that were hard hit by Sandy have recovered to varying degrees. Sam’s Snack Bar, which operated from a small building on the beach, was demolished by Sandy. After $180,000 in out-of-pocket expenses (not including insurance and relief aid provided by the chamber), the owner converted the business to a mobile restaurant (as did the Little Mermaid Café). The loss of parking spaces and a picnic table as well as the addition of more stairs to reach the snack bar at its new elevation have meant that Sam’s has not seen revenues recover to pre-Sandy levels.
Meanwhile, the business arguably most damaged by Sandy, the Andrea Hotel, is now a restaurant—The Andrea—that operates on a concrete slab covered by a tent. The owners contemplated rebuilding the hotel, and even spent $70,000 on architectural plans, only to discover that its new incarnation was actually more profitable. Still, the change meant a loss of 13 jobs, as well as a loss to the state in hotel taxes. Paddy’s Beach Restaurant, Konicki said, now utilizes portable dining units, with tarps instead of roofs, and its sales are up 30 percent from 2012, prior to Sandy.
The lesson from that, Konicki said, was that businesses should consider all their options, not just “knee-jerk rebuilding” and have a flexible business model.
“Less is more,” she said.
Michael Keyworth, general manager and vice president of Brewer Cove Haven Marina in Barrington, R.I., said that Brewer Yacht Yard owns a number of other marinas on the East Coast, all of which face a variety of risks based on their locations, and have variously increased their resilience by building wave fencing and installing deeper pilings and stronger, higher docks. He said that he receives a daily tropical update to let him know what to expect regarding impending storms. He added that it was important that employees be prepared in advance at home as well, so that in the event of the storm they would not have to take time off to ready their own homes and families.
All of the presentations from the symposium may be viewed on the video that will be available at the Pell Center by January 10.
– Monica Allard-Cox | Rhode Island Sea Grant Communications Director
Symposium supporters: Rhode Island Foundation, Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, Tetra Tech, Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association, USDA’s Risk Management Agency, 11th Hour Racing, Prince Charitable Trusts, van Beuren Charitable Foundation, Newport County Chamber of Commerce, and Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.