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Do the Outer Banks Have a Future


For two decades or more, those who follow issues of climate change have known that the Outer Banks are probably doomed. And yet, as one of the nation’s most popular vacation spots, there’s been a shocking lack of taking this issue seriously. The fascists who control the North Carolina legislature obviously are a big barrier here. But now, it’s just too big of a problem to ignore. What to do?

Bobby Outten, a county manager in the Outer Banks, delivered two pieces of bad news at a recent public meeting. Avon, a town with a few hundred full-time residents, desperately needed at least $11 million to stop its main road from washing away. And to help pay for it, Dare County wanted to increase Avon’s property taxes, in some cases by almost 50 percent.

Homeowners mostly agreed on the urgency of the first part. They were considerably less keen on the second.

People gave Mr. Outten their own ideas about who should pay to protect their town: the federal government. The state government. The rest of the county. Tourists. People who rent to tourists. The view for many seemed to be, anyone but them.

Mr. Outten kept responding with the same message: There’s nobody coming to the rescue. We have only ourselves.

“We’ve got to act now,” he said.

The risk to tiny Avon from climate change is particularly dire — it is, after all, located on a mere sandbar of an island chain, in a relentlessly rising Atlantic. But people in the town are facing a question that is starting to echo along the American coastline as seas rise and storms intensify. What price can be put on saving a town, a neighborhood, a home where generations have built their lives?

Communities large and small are reaching for different answers. Officials in Miami, Tampa, Houston, San Francisco and elsewhere have borrowed money, raised taxes or increased water bills to help pay for efforts to shield their homes, schools and roads.

Along the Outer Banks — where tourist-friendly beaches are shrinking by more than 14 feet a year in some places, according to the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management — other towns have imposed tax increases similar to the one Avon is considering. On Monday, county officials will vote on whether or not Avon will join them.

And Dare County officials did in fact vote unanimously to push forward that tax. Given how much money comes through these homes in weekly summer rentals, a market that will only go away when the Outer Banks are no longer accessible due to climate change, I am sure the cost can largely be passed on, though there are year-round residents.

Since we as a society have chosen to do nearly nothing about climate change at a fundamental level, it’s going to cost local communities an awful lot of money to keep their towns and cities livable. We’ll see how it goes.

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