January 11, 2006

Bill Pitt letter in OB Sentinel

The Outer Banks Sentinel
Pitt: Protect what we have


Interested in what happens to the economy and scale of development in oceanfront communities that have been impacted by storm damage, I have been trying to keep track of the action on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

In the Gulfport-Biloxi area virtually the entire tourism industry was destroyed in the storm. In response to the devastation the governing bodies in the area, including the state legislature have provided legislation to permit moving the casinos onto land. Plans have been laid to construct an entire new tourism industry infrastructure to include a minimum of 30,000 new hotel rooms, a 600,000-square-foot convention center, and as many new or upgraded activities and attractions as possible, all supported by a $20 million annual marketing program. The intent is to transform the now-devastated area into a premier "Tier One" Tourist destination by 2010. Now that will be re-development!

This is in sharp contrast with what has happened in communities that have been fortunate enough to have Beach Nourishment Projects in place. Spencer Rogers' (North Carolina Sea Grant) research demonstrates that oceanfront communities protected by beach nourishment projects suffer much less storm damage loss than do unprotected communities.

It is unlikely that we will suffer the same scale of catastrophic loss as the Mississippi Gulf coast. Our loss of oceanfront has been much more gradual. It has taken over 50 years to accumulate the current level of loss (the total assessed value of the Kitty Hawk oceanfront is now about $60 million, compared to more than $450 million for the same length of oceanfront in Kill Devil Hills).

If we do nothing to protect ourselves we will eventually reach the point where we have to make the decision to either re-develop or abandon our more severely threatened beaches. Human nature being what it is, that decision will be to re-develop, and that the scale of that re-development will be significantly greater than our current scale.

Protecting what we already have will go a long way towards preserving our existing scale of development. Despite statements that we are "over developed", our current scale of development is something worth preserving. There isn't any other way of protecting what we already have other than beach nourishment.

-Bill Pitt, Kill Devil Hills

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