Atlantic City faces rising sea levels, is already seeing more flooding, and has no plan ready.
Atlantic City, New Jersey, is on a barrier island. All of it is built on sand, just above sea level. 38,000 residents and tens of thousands of tourists a week occupy the narrow island at any time. Climate scientists say the sea is rising, deniers say the island is sinking, but whichever is right, the casino city of the eastern seaboard is running out its clock.
In 1910, researchers put a tide guard at the end of Steel Pier Amusement Park, which juts out from the center of the city. The gauge, which is still exactly where it was put 112 years ago, shows a sea level rise of a foot and a half, more than double the global mean. Every high tide risks flooding the streets, not only storms or extreme events.
At the moment, the only plan city officials seem to have is the plan that failed so spectacularly in New Orleans – levies, sea walls, pumps, and bulkheads. The project is underway, budgeted at $100 million but already well over that.
Other cities in the area are taking a more sensible approach. For instance in Woodbridge, about 100 miles north but still in New Jersey, the state has bought and torn down many beachfront homes to reduce the damage of future floods and storms.
But in Atlantic City, the money is on the boardwalk, and the boardwalk is on the beach. 27 million people visit annually, and they bring in seven billion dollars a year. So far, that’s worth the millions in damage that every storm reaching a little higher can do. But it won’t be forever.
Rutgers University researcher Robert Kopp estimates that New Jersey will see another one to three feet of sea level rise by 2070, and the land is sinking as well, compounding the problem.