A Dream Blown Away

By Joel Garreau
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 2, 2006

A place near the water has been an American dream for a very long time. Fifty-four percent of Americans live within 50 miles of a coast.

This is the year, however, in which the big boys in global finance got religion about climate change. As a result, this American dream -- as far north as the Washington area, and even New York and New England -- is under attack.

Follow the money. Insurance doesn't sound like a world-changer. It seems so banal and prosaic, like reliable electricity or clean water.

Yet without it -- you want a place to live? You cannot get a mortgage without insurance.

You want a job? A commercial enterprise cannot run without insurance.

Never want a drink of water / Til the well runs dry. / Never miss a real good thing / Til he says good-bye.

Turns out you don't have to wait for the waves to lap around your ankles. The climate is changing, Lord knows exactly how fast. But the money is moving pretty quickly.

Call 2006 the Batten Down the Hatches Moment.

* * *

When Peg and Ronald Buchanan left Silver Spring two years ago for retirement, they saw as their nest egg the house they'd built right on the ocean in the North Carolina Outer Banks.

It's a big place -- eight bedrooms, nine baths, three stories, 5,000 square feet, heated pool, kiddie pool, wild horses out back, dolphins out front. "It sits like a palace in the sky," Peg says. The front door is 12 feet above sea level. They figured on selling it for $2 million. The proceeds would pay for the rest of their lives.

Now they're wondering if they will ever be able to sell it. The map of their part of Carova Beach has been redrawn as a high-risk flood area by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As a result, it may not be possible for any new buyer to get a mortgage.

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