Taking nature’s hit

The focus will be on shovels, snow blowers and plows for the next two days as another New England snowstorm blankets the region. But last weekend’s storm and a similar one in January featuring high winds and ocean flooding deserve close examination from an emergency preparedness perspective.

Both storms caused private and public property damage in their wake. They knocked down trees and power lines and dumped a giant mess in the laps of public works departments, utilities and homeowners.

How much can be done to secure the North Shore and, for that matter, all coastal areas from devastating storms? Pie-in-the-sky spending suggestions for giant breakwaters and other structures designed to hold back nature’s wrath carry billion-dollar price tags and decade-long construction timelines.

Some urban planners and futurists call for surrendering coastlines to nature and basically returning waterfronts to the way they looked hundreds of years ago with little or nothing built along them. Some of these visionaries suggest adapting to rising ocean levels and building structures with water-related uses that can function surrounded by water.

These suggestions are about as realistic and probable as taking a trip to Mars. The reality is that people living on the North Shore or other coastlines around New England or around the world are going to have to grimace and bear extreme weather or find ways to minimize its damage. Storms like last weekend’s and the one in January or the late September torrent that inundated Lynn happen a handful of times a year. That means there are at least 300 other days in the year for people to put their heads together and come up with innovative and practical ideas for minimizing coastal storm damage.

Suggestions could range from creating water retention basins and channels along open beach areas to providing insurance discounts for homes outfitted with comprehensive water pump systems or water channeling devices.

Even these seemingly practical ideas cost a lot of money and take time to implement. The bottom line is sometimes people have to lose their home or risk losing their life before they weigh the practically of living next to the water.

There are other ways to reduce storm damage and the misery it causes. Utilities should embark on concerted, long-term efforts to weatherize utility lines and poles to make them storm-resistant. City and town public works departments need the money required to undertake full-scale tree inspection and pruning or removal efforts designed to minimize damage and potential loss of life caused by downed trees and falling limbs.

The current approach to weathering storms seems to involve rushing out to the store to buy extra milk and then stacking a few sandbags, getting the sump pump ready, and making sure the insurance agent’s number is handy. Maybe there is no better way to deal with nature’s wrath but the question is certainly worth discussing.

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