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East Coast May Feel Rise in Sea Levels the Most

 Eroding shoreline caused by rise in sea level along the Albemarle Peninsula, Albemarle Sound area of North Carolina
Eroding shoreline caused by rise in sea level along the Albemarle Peninsula, Albemarle Sound area of North Carolina (Photo by Jennifer Henman / The Nature Conservancy)

A more uncertain fate awaits such places as Assateague Island, a celebrated nature preserve, or the Maryland and Delaware beach resorts. They sit on barrier islands, just a few feet above the water.

"If these sea-level-rise numbers . . . come to pass, then I think it's pretty much a certainty" that these resorts would be abandoned, said Young, of Western Carolina University. "We're going to be spending so much money protecting metropolitan areas that it's hard to imagine we'd have enough left over to protect resort communities."

For now, that idea is almost too big to think about for resort-town mayors.

In Dewey Beach, Del., Mayor Dell Tush said the town had been staggered by the $12,000-per-house cost of elevating just a few homes that are too close to the water.

"The town basically has no plans, you know, for doing anything" to prepare for rising seas, Tush said. To raise all the town's houses "would be cost-prohibitive, it really would."

The threat is more tangible at Joey's Pizza and Pasta on Long Beach Island, N.J., another narrow, built-up barrier island. There, rain can bring Little Egg Harbor within a few feet of the door; a high tide and a good storm can put water in the dining room.

"You can't fight it. People say 'Sandbag the doors.' No, it comes in everywhere," said manager Tom Kowal. The restaurant makes light of its situation with a sign that says "Occasional Waterfront Dining." But Kowal said he is worried about what's coming.

"Ten inches higher than sea level right now? I'm underwater."


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