Restoring the shore is about emotions as well as engineering

 (Photo from Shutterstock)

(Photo from Shutterstock)

Restoring the Shore is not just about flood maps, building codes and economic multipliers.

It’s about my friend Ted and his granddad.

It’s about how my wife feels about the old Noller’s in Beach Haven.

It’s about being seven and sitting on the beach at Lavallette on the Fourth of July, watching six fireworks displays at once.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

It’s about families, traditions and nostalgia.

I’ve heard the catch in Ted’s voice when he mentions what Ocean City means to him, because it’s where he used to walk on the beach with his grandfather.

I’ve listened many times as my wife vividly recalls that long-ago college summer when she learned to support herself — and be herself — by slinging crabcakes and coffee at the patrons of Noller’s.

So I recognize the depth of our emotional investments in this slim, short strip of Atlantic coastline. They at least equal our economic ones.

These emotions inspire us to make sure Sandy doesn’t destroy a sun-splashed web of traditions.

But as this nostalgia inspires, can it also blind and distort? Might we throw good money after bad, ignoring the storm’s clear evidence about where unwise risk lies?  In striving to hang onto what we love most about the Shore, might we strew too much treasure right in the path of the next storm.

Because there will be a next storm.

These questions sit at the heart of WHYY’s community forum series called: Ready for Next Time? Rethinking the Shore After Sandy.

We held the first of five events last week at WHYY. The next is July 30 at Cape May Courthouse. Others are Aug. 5 at Mays Landing, and two Aug. 27 in Tuckerton and Long Beach Township.

What happens at these forums?

People like you, people who care about the Shore, come together to talk through different options, or schools of thought, on how to rebuild. We’ve sketched out three basic approaches that try to sum up what’s being talked about from Long Branch to Cape May.

The first approach, Rebuild and Prepare, argues for rebuilding swiftly and completely. In this view, Sandy was a rare event, so let’s not overreact. Instead, let’s prepare more smartly for storms. Don’t park the trains in a floodplain. Stuff like that.

A second approach, Rethink and Adapt, also wants to preserve Shore culture, but not by rebuilding in places the next storm will just wash away. It urges learning from Southern states how to build more storm-resilient communities.

The final choice, Restore and Retreat, thinks the coming sea-level rise dooms the old Shore. It wants to gradually restore barrier islands to their natural state, moving development inland.

We’ll lay out each approach in more detail during the rest of the week on the New Jersey page of

The first dialogue last week was rich and lively; grappling with the tensions and tradeoffs among the three approache seemed to really make people think.

If you care about the Shore and have thoughts about what it should look like five years from now, I’d love to see you at the next forum.

For more information on these events, check out our FAQ.  To sign up, go to

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal