Record Storms Wash Away $500K in Massachusetts


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An investment of over $500,000 by the town of Salisbury, Massachusetts, to restore its sand dunes and protect the community from battering tides is gone, swallowed by a pair of record storms over 72 hours in early March.

Salisbury’s experience may seem extreme, but it’s far from unique. Across the country, coastal communities spend thousands to fight storm erosion and damage to beaches and to protect coastal homes. Mitigation methods like rebuilding dunes are a costly burden for communities and states and aren’t always effective.

Failed mitigation methods create a domino effect of damage, insurance claims, and rising insurance rates. Even homeowners in coastal states who live farther inland can experience higher premiums.

The high cost of mitigation efforts

For Salisbury residents, this marks the latest setback since a major storm devoured the natural sand barrier on Salisbury Beach in December 2022. The aftermath of that event left area homes to shoulder the brunt of weather-related damage, including ripped-away decks, walkways, steps, and tennis courts.

Area residents have also had to endure rising insurance costs as well.

The restored dunes were meant to stem those losses. But now, with this latest barrier destroyed, area homeowners are left wondering what to do next.

State-funded initiatives, like the Florida Resilient Coastlines Program, work with communities to address coastal erosion. But one legislator has criticized the program for focusing too heavily on reactive measures rather than mitigation efforts, Florida Politics reported.

Climate change is a major driver of insurance increases.

In 2022, the global mean sea level was 4 inches higher than 1993 levels. This is the highest annual average in the satellite record, according to Sea levels are rising 2.5 times faster in the 21st century than in the 20th century.

The financial repercussions

Rising tides and devastating storms create a costly mix for coastal homeowners.

Florida has the highest home insurance rates in the country, and Massachusetts residents pay the eighth-highest rates, according to Insurify data. On average, homeowners in Essex County, which includes Salisbury, pay $1,857 per year for coverage. That rate marks a 4% increase from the previous year. And Insurify projects that home insurance rates will continue to rise in 2024.

Homeowners in other coastal states are also seeing rising home insurance rates.

“Home insurance is really difficult to find, and our rates go up every year,” said Evelyn Pimplaskar, Insurify’s editor-in-chief and the owner of a coastal vacation home in North Carolina. “The premium for our shore house is double the cost of the premium for our permanent home, and it’s half the size. But not a lot of insurers will offer us a policy, so we can’t compare and get a better option.”

Home repair costs are rising as well.

The Insurance Information Institute found that replacement and building costs have increased 12% since the COVID-19 pandemic due to supply chain issues and labor shortages.

Standard homeowners insurance covers a home’s structure, but any damage that flooding causes only has coverage through specific flood insurance.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Salisbury currently has just over 1,000 policies in effect and approximately $275 million in coverage, according to FEMA.

FEMA calculates flood insurance rates through its Risk Rating 2.0 methodology. It looks at factors such as the likelihood of flooding in an area, the building type, the elevation, and the replacement cost to determine the risk rating for a particular area.

The higher the risk rating, the higher the rate.

What’s next for the community

Salisbury’s dune restoration project began in mid-February. The town placed 14,000 tons of sand on a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of beach. The project took a little over a month to complete.

Now, the community must make an expensive pivot.

“We need to have a plan to be much more proactive than we are today. We tend to be very reactive,” State Sen. Bruce Tarr told 7 News.

The Salisbury community and the Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservation met on March 13 to discuss possible solutions, including planting dune grass and installing snow fences.

“Sacrificial sand buys time, but it does not buy permanence,” Tarr said to 10 Boston. “Obviously, this has been a very difficult year. We haven’t been able to stay ahead of it, but we need to continue to work together and use the tools that are available.”

As officials work to find solutions, they also work to meet rising challenges. predicts that sea levels will rise between 0.6 and 1.1 feet by 2030. In comparison, sea levels rose 9 inches in the entire 20th century.

This article originally appeared on Insurify and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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