How COVID Put a $10 Billion Emergency on the Back Burner

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The inspection conducted by NBC Bay Area reveals that COVID-19 has halted at least thirteen BART Bay Area projects intended to avoid flood damages from rising sea levels. BART San Francisco’s ocean and bay water levels show rapid increases, as revealed in NASA’s most recent readings. Due to these findings, experts stated that the Bay Area is running out of time to address its sea intensity concerns.

According to the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s executive director Warner Chabot, they “cannot afford to lose a week, a day, certainly not a year or two,” to implement the plans to manage the area’s rising sea-level surges. Additionally, Marin County’s Planning Manager Jack Liebster also has something to say regarding the situation.

“If we don’ts start very soon, we’re going to be in a world of hurt,” said Liebster, gazing over Stinson Beach. “This beach, Stinson Beach, will be, through a combination of drowning and erosion, it’ll be gone,” he added.

Stinson Beach is one of Northern California’s best swimming beaches, as enumerated by the National Park Services. Despite its renowned reputation, Stinson Beach is also one of the Bay Area’s most vulnerable spots concerning its waters’ relentless sea level increase. Due to multiple signs observed in a recent weekend, Liebster expressed how much rising saltwater could devour Stinson every ten years. C-Smart, a vulnerability assessment used by Marine County, alerts the possibility of a consequential economic toll on flooding from rising seas. This event can affect over several million guests, 3,000 locals, and 1,400 properties.

Liebster came up with a plan suggesting the creation of sandbanks to act as sea barriers. These walls will protect properties and homes at Stinson, including adding more sand to the beach from time to time to prevent it from eroding off. This proposal demands a lot of testing, engineering, and money.

Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a $4.7 billion budget to aid high-risk areas like Stinson Beach last January of this year. However, the suggestion experienced a pullback when COVID-19 struck.

“The bond was shelved, along with many other things, as a result of the COVID-19 recession,” said Sara Lupien, Gov. Newsom’s Chief External Affairs Officer. “There are no decisions yet about bonds of any kind in the January 2021 budget,” she added.

The multi-million-dollar and multi-year South Bay Salt Ponds Restoration Project helps prevent flooding by absorbing rising sea intensities. This scheme is the most massive tidal wetlands attempt on the west coast. As stated by representatives, COVID-19 slowed down most construction related to the restoration project. However, the planning work for Salt Ponds still resumes.

“Cities and counties can’t have the capacity to be thinking about these challenges,” California’s Principal Fiscal and Policy Analyst Rachel Ehlers said. “There are other competing priorities for time and attention,” she added.

Ehler’s office issued an August 2020 report showing a likely scenario of a six-inch water increase in the Bay Area by 2020. The year 2000’s sea-level measurements were the basis for this rise.

As stated in Ehler’s report, “Waiting too long to initiate adaptation efforts likely will make responding to effectively more difficult and costly.”

For many sea-level rise projects, experts emphasized the importance of time for their enactments. Moreover, scientists expressed their ideas to produce natural reefs to stall rising seas impacts. The building and experimenting of those reefs have already started Pinole Point. However, if the project’s deceleration took too long, the establishment of new barriers against rising waters will become impossible.

The Investigative Unit has detected more than a dozen sea-level projects intended to protect, slow, or stop against rising tides delayed or stalled due to the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has severely affected the economic tax base both locally and statewide, resulting in a lack of funds for the projects’ execution.