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OC’s bayside under ‘bigger threat’ from sea level rise

(Dec. 12, 2014) Regardless of the cause, climate change and sea level rise have worked their way into government processes protecting, restoring and maintaining city infrastructure.

“Bayside is a challenge for us. Still water flooding isn’t as damaging as ocean flooding, but we do what we can on the bayside within constraints,” City Engineer Terry McGean said this week.

Over on Assateague Island, without the benefit of such mitigation strategies, the effects are more apparent.

“You’re not going to notice the ongoing daily erosion. It’s like looking at yourself in the mirror, you don’t notice the small changes every day, but over the years you can see the difference,” Courtney Schupp, the National Park Service’s coastal geomorphologist, said.

The bigger changes are what get noticed.

“Storms bring overwash that people notice. North of the state park, new land has formed. Plovers are making use of that land. If you go out on the marsh, you’ll see a few inches of vertical drop between the marsh surface and beach,” Schupp said.

Those marshes are important.

“We’re seeing a substantial loss of margin in the marsh, and we’re losing the filtration system and habitat. When you lose the filtration system, the dead matter the grasses held together become loose in the water table,” Coastal Bays Executive Director Dave Wilson said.

The results are symptoms of a growing trend longtime residents may see as “just the way it is.”

“It has nothing to do with tides, it’s the cutting motion of storms,” Seacrets owner Leighton Moore said, “The island migrates — you can see the migration but it hasn’t lost width. On a full moon, the tide rises about six inches maximum. On average, it’s the same as it’s always been.”

Just down the road a bit, Mackey Stansell, owner of Mackey’s, didn’t see a rise this year, instead he saw the tides fall.

“I was shocked at the recession. The beach never flooded out and, if anything, I saw a lowering of the tide this summer. There was some erosion in the first 2-3 feet but at low tide you could easily walk out 30 feet,” he said.

Whatever the cause, the impacts are being felt.

“There’s not much the city can do to prevent flooding, particularly downtown. All the water falls into the Assawoman and Isle of Wight Bay — it’s tricky when you’re at sea level and there’s nowhere to go,” Wilson said.

The only way to go is up.

“We try to raise the streets and bulkheads where we can, but that can cause the water the drain onto adjacent properties. The island slopes east-west, with the low spots on the west. A couple of inches are a couple of years worth of sea level rise,” McGean said.

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