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Atlantic City and Miami Beach: two takes on tackling the rising waters

Sea level rise is making floods more common and as the New Jersey resort braces for the next Sandy, the well-heeled Florida city is throwing money at the problem

The Irish Pub near Atlantic Citys famed boardwalk doesnt have any locks on the doors as it is open 24 hours a day. So when Hurricane Sandy crunched into what was once known as the Las Vegas of the east coast in 2012, some improvisation was needed.

Regular drinkers helped slot a cork board through the frame of the door, wedging it shut and keeping out the surging seawater. The wild night, which severely damaged more than 320 homes and caused a week-long power blackout, was seen out by those taking shelter with the help of several bottles of Jameson.

But Sandy was just the headline act among increasingly common flooding events that are gnawing away at the thin island upon which the city sits.

Sandy, as devastating as it was, isnt the greatest barometer because we have flash floods, said Cathy Burke, who has run the Irish Pub since 1973. Burke, a gravelly voiced institution along the boardwalk, has hoarded treasures from Atlantic Citys zenith. The upstairs of the pub is replete with vintage furniture, gramophones and china dogs.

We can have floods at the drop of a hat, Burke said. Without even realizing were going to have them. Itll be raining and within seconds youll see flooding in the street. You dont read about it in the paper. You dont hear about it on the radio or television. You just have water that just comes up and if you dont have warning and move your car, you have water in the car.

These flooding events have increased seven-fold in Atlantic City since the 1950s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and are spurred by rainfall or simply a spring tide abetted by unhelpful gusts of wind.

The casinos and boardwalk are protected on the ocean side by a network of beach dunes. But the western side of the city, where few tourists venture and poverty lingers, is more vulnerable. Several times a month water swells in the bay behind Absecon Island the barrier strip dotted by the resorts of Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate and Longport and with nowhere to go can slosh into the streets, wrecking cars and stranding residents.

The rising ocean, fed by melting glaciers and the expansion of warming water, is piling up water along Americas entire eastern seaboard. To compound the problem much of the mid-Atlantic coast is sinking, a hangover from the last ice age, meaning life and property is being swamped like never before.

atlantic city sea level

And yet with no overarching national sea level rise plan and patchy commitment from states, many coastal communities are left to deal with the encroaching seas themselves. Wealthier areas are raising streets and houses, erecting walls and pumps. Those without the funds or political will have several state or federal grants they can access but often make muddled choices in the face of this sisyphean task.

There is no central place that makes all the decisions, so you get one town building a pump station to push water out and another town pumping the water back to the same place, said Rouzbeh Nazari, an environmental engineering expert at Rowan University.

Nazari is critical of outdated flood maps, risky building in areas prone to flooding and what he considers an undue haste to buy up water-ravaged houses on the cheap to compensate homeowners rather than improve ragged coastal defenses.

It kind of feels like weve just given up, that we cant do anything about it, he said. Im less worried about a Sandy-like event than nuisance flooding. They are losing 20 cars a month to nuisance flooding on Absecon Island. We need a regional solution but New Jersey has no specific plan to deal with it.

A spokesman for New Jerseys department of environmental protection disputes claims that it lacks a plan, pointing to work with the army corps of engineers over future levees and a solution to inadequate stormwater systems that can exacerbate flooding.

We will be working very closely with coastal communities in identifying problem areas and the best ways to deal with them, the spokesman said. Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, has previously said there was no evidence that Hurricane Sandy was linked to climate change. Asked about flooding at Cape May last year, Christie said: I dont know what you want me to do, you want me to go down there with a mop?

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Tom Quirk, a lifelong resident of Atlantic City, stands in a recently flooded area. Photograph: Laurence Mathieu-Leger for the Guardian

In Atlantic Citys heyday, its Steel Pier hosted concerts by Frank Sinatra and the Beatles, as well as a recurring attraction where a horse was required to dive off a 60ft platform into a pool of water a colossally stupid idea according to the then president of the US Humane Society. Today, it abuts the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino, which was sold by the president last year, as well as a tidal gauge that is quietly recording the fate of the city.

The numbers are stark the sea is rising at nearly 1.5 inches (38mm) a decade, streaking ahead of the global average and eroding away the tips of the island. Slender barrier islands such as Absecon arent easy to tame even with a stable sea level. Native Americans used to holiday, but never live, on the shifting sandy outcrop because they knew that it would be perennially mauled by the sea. Today, there are about 40,000 people living in Atlantic City, with the boardwalk drawing in millions of tourists to its hulking casinos.

The Native Americans were a lot smarter than the European settlers, said James Whalen, a former Atlantic City mayor turned state senator. The barrier islands up and down the coast really should not have been built on, but here we are.

And then there are the storms. Ben Horton, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, said that a Sandy-like storm used to occur on the east coast once every 500 years, before industrial activity began loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Now such a storm arrives once every 25 years or so. Should the sea level continue to rise sharply, by 2100 Sandy would visit Atlantic City every five years.

If you chat to people here and you say, How sustainable is the New Jersey shore or Atlantic City to an event of the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy occurring every five years?, youll get a very negative response, Horton said.

The sustainability of Atlantic City consumes the thoughts of Elizabeth Terenik, the citys spry planning director. Terenik said the rise in nuisance flooding has become a major quality of life issue for back-bay residents. Many of those able to have raised their homes new buildings must now be a foot higher than previous codes due to the flooding.

Terenik is plotting new sea walls, a curb on new development in flood-prone areas and an underground canal that can funnel away stormwater. Perhaps most ambitiously, she is taken by an idea, put forward by Princeton University, that would raise the streets and houses in Chelsea Heights, a vulnerable neighborhood, and allow the water to seep into vacant land to create a sort of New Jersey twist on Venice.

Its an exciting project but one that really needs to be looked at closely before anythings moved forward and of course it would need funding, Terenik conceded. A lot of funding.

Miami Beach: climate gentrification

Funding isnt such a problem 1,200 miles south at another barrier island facing a daunting challenge from the seas Miami Beach. While it shares much of Atlantic Citys bygone glory, with its art deco grandeur and former celebrity playground status, Miami Beach linked by causeways to the mainland city of Miami has managed to retain much of the wealth that has allowed it to hurl money at the sea level rise problem.

Pancake flat and built on porous ground that is slowly sinking back to the seabed, Miami Beach is surrounded by seas accelerating at an astonishing 9mm a year vastly more than the 3mm-a-year global average. Should slabs of Antarctic ice start to crumble away into the ocean and fuel a 6ft sea level rise by 2100, Miami Beach will pretty much be swallowed up.

We are facing an existential threat here, said Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Miami Beachs city commissioner. Gonzalez, a college professor, focused heavily on sea level rise when she was elected last year. Its not really much of a choice these days the mayor, Philip Levine, paddled down a flooded street in a canoe as part of an election stunt.

miami beach sea level

Once known as a sunny place for shady people due to its popularity with pre-war gangsters, Miami Beach is now often referred to as ground zero for the sea level rise phenomenon. But its perhaps more like a living laboratory experiment into what happens when you give a cashed-up place the task of avoiding drowning.

Miami Beach is spending $400m on a network of pumps, sea walls and raised streets in order to beat the tides. One vulnerable neighborhood, Sunset Harbor, has had its streets raised by 2ft at a cost of over $30m. All over the island, predominantly in the wealthier neighborhoods where properties go for $10m or more, streets are being torn up.

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Kristen Rosen Gonzalez: Were literally going to have to rise above this. Photograph: Michael Landsberg for the Guardian

Were literally going to have to rise above this, Gonzalez said. Thats very scary for many of us because right now, we cant really picture what that looks like. It is so hard to imagine parts of Miami Beach disappearing. A lot of this island is fill. We filled it in once. Well fill it in again.

City engineers admit that they are merely buying themselves time, perhaps 20 years or so, until Miami Beach will need to work the problem out again, possibly with some new technology. The seas are relentless, and rising ever further without end in sight. Much of southern Florida will eventually be reclaimed, but for now there is trillions of dollars of real estate to save.

Retreat isnt on the agenda, but as in Atlantic City theres an equity issue at play. The affluent can afford to raise their homes, lobby for sea walls and water pumps, and stay in a nice hotel if it all gets a bit much.

Poorer residents are less able to do this, nor can they foot the bill for the work Miami Beach has eye-watering average water bills of $350 a month in order to pay for the street work. Some people may have to leave if the costs mount further. Even some of the wealthier residents are buying insurance properties in areas of the mainland, farther from the coast.

Valencia Gunder calls this phenomenon climate gentrification. Gunder is a nascent climate campaigner and resident of Liberty City, a Miami district known for its problems with crime and poverty. Gunder has been agitating, so far unsuccessfully, for some large trees to help shade the Liberty City populace from increasingly frequent heatwaves. She gives a wry smile at the mention of Miami Beachs extreme engineering.

Were noticing things like heatstrokes and people passing out because its so hot outside, people cant take the heat, she said.

I do understand that you want to take care of the community thats right on the shore, but we all are affected. Four hundred million dollars, yes, is needed for resiliency, but just to put it in one neighborhood I think is ridiculous.

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Michel Rodriguez tries to jump to a shallow spot as he crosses a flooded street in Miami Beach in 2015. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

We pay taxes. We live here. We go to school here. We work here. We deserve the same treatment as other communities.

Federal leadership for communities like Atlantic City and Miami Beach is unlikely to arrive before the situation escalates further. Donald Trumps administration has already taken aim at existing coastal resiliency funding and has disparaged basic scientific understanding of climate change.

Should the seas rise by 6ft, 13 million Americans in coastal areas will have to relocate by the end of this century, according to recent research. There will need to be a plan, beyond just cutting emissions, well before this time.

In the meantime, threatened cities such as New York and Boston will mull gargantuan sea barriers, Miami Beach will hoist itself further upwards, and Atlantic City will hope a solution, or a combination of solutions, is found before the next Sandy arrives.

What links these places is the reluctance to abandon them. Miami Beach is one of the most special places in the entire world and we dont plan on going anywhere, said Gonzalez. Were going to be here for the long haul. I love this city. Its my home. I cant imagine there not being a Miami Beach.

Back in Atlantic City, Cathy Burke, surrounded by her Boardwalk Empire-style refinements, is similarly defiant.

I am a diehard Atlantic City native, she said. I love Atlantic City. I dont want to live anywhere else.

Ive seen hotels demolished. Storms, whatever. And as far as Im concerned, Atlantic City will always be here and it will only get bigger and better than ever.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/20/atlantic-city-miami-beach-sea-level-rise


Mexican president’s family faces calls for investigation into Miami apartment

Oppositions parties and Mexican media alleged cronyism after Guardian report revealed property arrangement between Pea Nietos wife and Ricardo Pierdant

Political and civil society leaders in Mexico are calling for an investigation into the first familys use of a luxury apartment in Miami, which has raised the spectre of a fresh conflict-of-interest scandal.

Opposition parties demanded that authorities investigate the property arrangement between a Miami-based Mexican businessman and Anglica Rivera, the wife of President Enrique Pea Nieto.

Mexican newspapers and social media have led an outcry, alleging cronyism, since the Guardian reported the arrangement on Tuesday.

The revelation has prompted fresh scrutiny of the embattled presidents ethics following an earlier scandal over his familys purchase of a Mexico City mansion, known as the Casa Blanca, from a government contractor.

Suspicion in the latest case focuses on why the businessman, Ricardo Pierdant, let the first lady use the $2.05m Miami apartment and also why one of his companies paid close to $30,000 in property taxes on her behalf for a neighbouring apartment which she owns.

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The two main opposition parties have asked for an investigation into the Miami apartments, which are in Ocean Tower One in Key Biscayne. Photograph: Handout

Pierdant is a close friend of the first family and his company, Grupo Pierdant, was expected to bid for lucrative contracts to run Mexicos ports.

The first lady cannot receive lucrative favours without authorisation from the federal executives legal counsel, an oversight agency, wrote Salvador Camerana, a columnist, in El Financeiro. The president of the republic cannot accept that his friends extend favours worth thousands of dollars to him, his wife, their children or to their collaborators.

Eduardo Bohrquez, head of the advocacy group Transparency Internationals Mexico chapter, told the Wall Street Journal that the first couple faced renewed scrutiny. It reignites the discussion over the links that the president and his wife have with businessmen, particularly the type of relation that they could have with someone who pays your property taxes.

The two main opposition parties, the National Action party (PAN) and Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) have asked for an investigation into the Miami apartments, which are in Ocean Tower One, a gated community with a pool, tennis courts and white glove concierge in Key Biscayne, an affluent enclave in Miami-Dade County.

Such an investigation would probably be the responsibility of federal auditors and the comptrollers office.

In a statement, Eduardo Snchez, the presidents spokesman, said that the first lady used Pierdants apartment only on rare occasions and that there was no conflict of interest because the businessman had no federal government contracts and was not participating in current bids.

The spokesman declined to say why Pierdants company, Biscayne Ocean Holdings, paid taxes in 2014 on the first ladys apartment, unit 404, which is directly beneath his own unit 304.

In a statement the spokesman also questioned the Guardians veracity and claimed the newspaper had apologised several years before over a separate story about the president. The Guardian has not apologised for its reporting.

Pierdant, the co-founder of DecoBikes, a bicycle-sharing program in Miami and San Diego, has declined to speak to the Guardian, but a Mexican news website quoted him saying the first lady, a former telenovela star, asked him to handle the property tax and reimbursed him.

At the time Pierdant bought the Key Biscayne apartment in 2009 he was overdue on mortgage payments for another Coral Gables property, according to court documents seen by the Wall Street Journal. Asked by Univision how he could afford to pay one apartment in cash while owing money on another property, Pierdant was quoted as saying: I had the money available.

The outcry over the first familys property dealings in Miami comes at a delicate time for Pea Nieto, who is battling a sluggish economy and rampant crime. A poll taken before the current row showed his approval ratings dropping to 23%, his worst showing since taking office in 2012. The newspaper Reforma said it was the lowest approval rating for a president since it began publishing similar polls in 1995, just after a huge currency devaluation.

The Miami property arrangements have fuelled unease because they echo aspects of the first ladys purchase of a $7m mansion in Mexico City from another businessman with government contracts the so-called Casa Blanca (White House) scandal.

It landed like a bombshell in 2014, wrecking Pea Nietos reformist credentials and reviving longstanding concerns about corruption in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI).

The first lady later returned the property and last month Pea Nieto apologized, saying the scandal had dented faith in the presidency and government. For this reason, with all humility I ask your forgiveness.

The president made the apology as he signed into law an anti-corruption system that his PRI party hopes will boost its credibility in the run-up to the 2018 presidential election.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/12/mexico-president-pena-nieto-wife-miami-apartment


Tim Kaine greets crowd in Spanish as Clinton introduces VP pick in Miami

Virginia senator welcomes everyone in our country with bilingual address as Clinton and running mate take aim at Donald Trump and Mike Pence

Tim Kaine, Hillary Clintons newly minted running mate, had barely taken his place at the podium in Miami when he started speaking Spanish.

Bienvenidos a todos en nuestro pais, porque somos Americanos todos, the senator from Virginia said. It translated to: Welcome to everyone in our country, because we are all Americans.

Of Clinton, he said: Were going to be compaeros de alma [soulmates] in this great lucha [fight] ahead.

A crowd of thousands had queued for hours under the sweltering sun, lines snaking around the campus of Florida International University. They erupted into cheers.

Not long after, Kaine asked those who were naturalized US citizens to raise their hands. A sizable chunk of the audience obliged in a county that is home to a majority Hispanic population.

Thank you for choosing us, Kaine said, to another rousing reception.

Such moments captured dramatically a tale of two elections: Clinton and Kaine embracing the changing demographics of America, Donald Trump surging to the Republican nomination on a staunch anti-immigration platform and a pledge to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.

In Miami, one voter, Michael Paul Massaria, turned to his wife and remarked: Were not hearing all that doom and gloom like we did at the Republican convention in Cleveland.

On multiple occasions, Kaine was interrupted with chants of USA! USA! the sort of patriotism often on display at Republican events where time is dedicated to the projection of American strength.

But the supporters who packed into this basketball stadium were celebrating a different vision, one in which America is defined by its diversity and multiculturalism.

Weve got this beautiful country that should be a country of welcome, a country of inclusion, Kaine said.

He later vowed to advance comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, in the first 100 days of a Clinton presidency. Such promises could be seen as wishful thinking, as Barack Obama has learned during his time in the White House. But Massaria, from nearby Davie, was quick to observe the benefit.

Kaines fluency in Spanish, he said, will help down the line with bringing in the Latino vote, especially here in south Florida.

Attendees like Anna Alvarez, a 67-year-old naturalized citizen who moved to Miami 43 years ago, were a testament to the potential appeal of a vice-presidential candidate campaigning for the first time in English and Spanish.

He will get in his pocket the millions and millions of Hispanics that Trump lost, she said.

Alvarez had never seen Kaine before, a fact the senator invoked with the self-deprecating declaration: Let me be honest: for many of you this is the first time youve heard my name.

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A woman wearing a US flag hijab applauds in the crowd in Miami. Photograph: Scott Audette/Reuters

Alvarez said: Im one of the ones that didnt know his name, but he was incredible. Hes down to earth, I liked his background and his experience. I really like the way he was very proud of his wife.

Trump, she said, reminded her of the Cuban regime she fled from more than four decades ago.

I had the experience of [Fidel] Castro, she said, and Trump is a reminder of the dictators in the world. I am totally against anything that has to do with Trump.

Clinton, who sat beaming behind Kaine throughout his remarks, said in her introduction that America was united behind the the confidence, the optimism that we are stronger together.

Im so thrilled to announce that my running mate doesnt just share those values, he lives them, she said. Tim Kaine is everything Donald Trump and [his vice-presidentil pick] Mike Pence are not. Hes qualified to step into this job and lead on day one. And he is a progressive who likes to get things done.

Clinton announced late on Friday that she had picked Kaine, a senator from Virginia, following an extensive vetting process that lasted more than two months. Her choice followed a calculation that the working-class, swing-state senator could bolster her appeal not just among Latinos but also moderates and independents.

A faction of progressives are less enthusiastic about Kaines centrist record, particularly his approach to the regulation of Wall Street and his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Clintons former rival, the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, did not immediately respond to the news. Clinton will formally accept the Democratic nomination for president this week, at the partys national convention in Philadelphia.

In Miami, Clinton touted Kaine as a pragmatic progressive.

When I say hes a progressive who likes to get things done, I mean it. Hes not afraid to take on special interests, Clinton said, adding that Kaine cares more about making a difference than making headlines.

And make no mistake. Behind that smile Tim also has a backbone of steel. Just ask the NRA.

Kaine was governor during the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, in which 32 students and faculty members were killed. The senator made reference to the tragedy on Saturday, pausing for a moment as he grew emotional.

It was the worst day of my life, he said.

Kaine recounted how he battled the National Rifle Association in his push for stricter gun laws, which eventually led to an executive order to bar firearm sales to individuals legally declared mentally ill or dangerous. Gun control has emerged as a prominent issue in the 2016 election. Kaine pledged: We will not rest until we get universal background checks.

It was one of his biggest applause lines.

Kaine also wasted little time going after Trump, invoking the real estate moguls recent comments that the US should not immediately come to the assistance of Nato allies unless they had fulfilled their obligations in return.

This drives home the stakes of this election, Kaine said, noting that his son was a US Marine who would deploy next week to Europe to uphold Americas commitment to our Nato allies. He added: Hillary Clinton is the direct opposite of Donald Trump. She doesnt trash our allies she respects them.

Trump last week chose Pence, the Indiana governor, as his vice-presidential candidate. A popular figure among evangelical conservatives and known, like Kaine, for his polite demeanor, Pence has nonetheless shed the nice-guy image in his new role as attack dog for Trump, echoing the real estate moguls message that Clinton is corrupt and disqualified from the presidency.

Trump sought to brand Kaine as beholden to special interests, tweeting early on Saturday that Clinton had in effect rejected the will of progressives and Sanders backers.

Tim Kaine is, and always has been, owned by the banks, he said. Bernie supporters are outraged, was their last choice. Bernie fought for nothing!

Later, Trump added: Just saw Crooked Hillary and Tim Kaine together. Isis and our other enemies are drooling. They dont look presidential to me!

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/23/hillary-clinton-tim-kaine-vp-vice-president


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