Atlantic Cities

One Town's Amazing Plan to Lift Its Entire Downtown Above Sea-Level Rise

One Town's Amazing Plan to Lift Its Entire Downtown Above Sea-Level Rise
Reuters

This is the New Jersey seaside town of Highlands, which has just provided me an excellent excuse to play with this fantastic global topography mapping tool:


http://www.mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php

As the map shows, the part of town north of Route 36 is flat and low, or, post-Sandy, what we'd think of now as very, very vulnerable. Obviously, this is where you'd want to put your downtown if the goal is launching boats. But the steeply shaded land elsewhere on the peninsula 50 miles from New York City looks like it would fare much better in a future of rising tides. Those parts of the town are protected by a natural ridge.

Here is another view with a U.S. Geological Survey map layer:

This geography lesson is just a bit of background for this curious story out of Highlands this week: Town officials are considering a nearly $200 million project to lift the entire downtown 11 feet above its current elevation. As the Asbury Park Press explains it (with a hat tip to Transportation Nation):

In their vision, not only would every residential or commercial front door go up at least 10 feet — a process that already has begun in many parts of the Jersey Shore — but every curb, crosswalk and blade of grass would as well.

By their own estimates, the process would cost less than $200 million, take two years to complete and require millions of cubic yards of fill, consisting of either dredged material from Raritan Bay, chunks of concrete from construction sites or lots of barges full of gravel and dirt.

A project on this scale would almost certainly require federal resources. And the Army Corps of Engineers is actually considering this. Apparently, it isn't a totally outlandish idea given the town's unusual topography. So how exactly would you go about elevating an entire community?

Under the plan, Highlands would be elevated not in one shot, but in 500-foot-wide slivers. Once all the structures in a section are elevated, workers would build a retaining wall at its edge and then fill it in, installing new utility connections along the way.

Residents of the sliver being worked on would be relocated to a temporary camp for about a month, Szulecki said.

Another way to look at this is that people will go to some pretty far-out lengths to remain in the places they consider home.

Top image of the construction of a new sea wall on the New Jersey coast: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities based in Washington, D.C. She now writes for The Washington Post. All posts »

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