|Like many seaside towns and cities across the United States, Crisfield, MD has already begun to suffer from the consequences of global warming. When Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, the area was one of the most heavily affected on the Eastern Seaboard: the streets flooded with several feet of water, even floating coffins out of their graves. But although many residents returned after the devastation and decided to rebuild their homes, Crisfield has continued to decline due to changing conditions. Formerly known as the “Seafood Capital of the World,” the crab industry has deteriorated and the title has been retired. While the city has found new life in recreation and tourism, the threat of worsening weather and more so-called superstorms to come is constant.To prevent similar devastation in the future, Crisfield and several other cities in Maryland have discussed fortifying barrier islands like Assateague and Chincoteague to help protect the mainland from storms and waves. Now, Crisfield has partnered with the United States Army Corps of engineers to establish an off-shore breakwater west of the city. Though still in the planning process, the breakwater could potentially defend Crisfield against severe flooding for at least two decades.Previously, the city was protected from large waves by Great Point, a stretch of land southwest of Crisfield. However, Great Point had begun eroding even before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, allowing the city to flood. The breakwater would use roughly $2.8 million of the $16.7 million given to Somerset County after the storm to prevent similar damage in the future. The Army Corps of Engineers also plans to spend $5 million on the project.
Crisfield is currently awaiting the results of a $350,000 study on local erosion rates. The information in the report will be used to design the breakwater and also to devise alternative methods of shoreline protection. But even if the city decides to build man-made sand dunes or other common flood prevention strategies, proper measures will need to be followed to prevent further damage: excavation commonly causes problematic leaks if a pipeline is struck, making it critical to research the area prior to excavation to assure that there are no pipes in the vicinity.
Further complicating matters is the possibility that the breakwater may draw complaints from other communities in the area, particularly those who live around local barrier islands: some residents, caretakers and environmentalists have begun to espouse the idea that the islands and seashore should be left as is, instead of trying to maintain manmade dunes and other projects. This logic requires that communities and man made structures prepare for what the ocean might toss their way, instead of trying to adapt the land to their cause. Assateague is one example of how this might work; over the last 20 years, the island’s caretakers have redesigned many of the park’s facilities so that they can be quickly disassembled and removed in the event of a storm. However, with many people determined to continue their lives in Crisfield and other seaside towns, few are likely to accept the idea that their life on Maryland’s coast may mean suffering through hell or high water.