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Adventure : Politics

Fighting the Rising Tide

AS CLIMATE adaptation measures go it’s a doozy, worthy of the storm that spawned it. New Jersey governor Chris Christie wants huge protective sand barriers to exist along all 127 miles of his state’s shoreline, where Sandy made landfall last October, ultimately destroying 360,000 homes and causing $37 billion in damage.

The initiative will play out differently around the state, largely because federal law restricts the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will do much of the work, to whatever was authorized or constructed in the mid-1990s, when the project was first dreamed up. So, for example, along 21 miles of coast in northern New Jersey, from Sea Bright to Manasquan Inlet, the Corps will rebuild an existing berm—a ten-foot-tall flat stretch of beach, 100 to 200 feet wide—but there will be no dunes, which are taller and narrower. The $125 mil-lion project will use eight million cubic yards of sand dredged from the ocean.

The next stretch of coastline, from Manasquan to Barnegat Inlets, will get the full berm-and-dune treatment. If local authorities and homeowners agree, the dune would be 18 to 22 feet high, and the project would consume another ten million cubic yards of sand.

That doesn’t mean everybody wants in. On the tourist-centric Jersey Shore, views matter, and dunes block them out. In Seaside Heights, a tiny barrier-island town that was walloped by Sandy, officials are worried that beachgoers won’t be able to see the water even from its rebuilt boardwalk. And in a test case watched statewide, beachfront homeowners Harvey and Phyllis Karan sued five years ago and won
a $375,000 judgement for the loss of their view in the tiny borough of Harvey Cedars. But the state supreme court overturned that in July, telling a lower court to consider the value of the dune that saved
the Karans’ nearly $2 million home—and others around it—from Sandy.

“Beach replenishment and storm abatement has been a passion of mine,” says Jon Oldham, mayor of Harvey Cedars. “I’m not gloating,” he says, “but I feel we did what was best for our town.”

Dunes, often described as fragile by officials trying to keep beachgoers off them, are relatively inexpensive, and they work—against waves. New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection estimates that 80 to 85 percent of the state’s oceanfront property has some form of dune protection, some of it built over the years by individual towns, not the Army Corps.

The famously blunt Christie has called dune opponents “knuckleheads,” and at one town meeting said a litany of objections raised by homeowners were “bullshit,” designed to obscure their real goal of pre-serving views. “We are not going through that again,” he said of Sandy’s devastation, “so you can sit on the first floor rather than the second floor and see the ocean.”

Lenny Bernstein is the national environmental reporter for The Washington Post.

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Cash Flow

IT TOOK THREE months for Congress to pass a bill aimed at helping East Coast residents cope with the impact of Sandy, and it will take at least eight times that long to spend it. Unlike many emergency-spending bills—which get loaded up with extraneous provisions, ranging from federal subsidies to tax breaks—the $50.5 billion measure approved in late January guides recovery efforts by designating funds to specific missions. But does that mean all the money is being spent wisely? Not entirely.

First, it's worth noting that funding under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 is separate from the National Flood Insurance Program, which has now paid out $7.7 billion on 143,000 Sandy-related claims. Up and down the coast, almost anyone with a home who got federal flood insurance to obtain a mortgage has been compensated, at taxpayer expense.

For years the program has allowed Americans to live in flood-prone areas by subsidizing their insurance rates. Although lawmakers recently made some reforms, the program still makes it cheaper and easier for homeowners to live in regions that will face future disasters.

In terms of the relief bill itself, the government shaved $2.5 billion off the supplemental bill through the mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration. As a result, the measure's grand total stands at $47,994,808,108. The money isn't coming out all at once: as of August 1, the federal government had issued $9.1 billion, less than 19 percent of the total amount.

From early expenditures, it appears clear that the money has cushioned the storm's blow for many East Coast residents. The Federal Emergency Management Administration provided disaster assistance to 182,800 individuals at a cost of more than $1.4 billion. (Of those receiving aid, much of which went to rental insurance and home repairs, 64 percent live in New York and 34 percent in New Jersey.) The Agriculture Department had spent $6.2 million by August 1, with the bulk of that going to purchase food for soup kitchens and food banks and a portion funding efforts by farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate and repair farmland, watersheds, and floodplains. Most of the measure's biggest expenditures will take climate change into account but won't radically alter coastal development.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide $15.2 billion in Community Development Block Grants, meaning state and local officials will determine where the money winds up. The government has given out $5.4 bilion so far, which was more or less evenly divided among New York State, New York City, and New Jersey. So far it's gone mainly to homeowners and small businesses doing repairs; later it will pay for everything from hardening the region's grid to restoring dunes.

Bottom line: federal officials are prodding the states to take factors such as more severe storms and rising sea levels into account when rebuilding, but they will be rebuilding on the coasts all the same.

Juliet Eilperin is a White House correspondent for The Washington Post.

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How to Save Cycling

This Monday, the best riders in the world will convene in Colorado to race the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a 683-mile, seven-day stage race. And we’re psyched. From Tour de France winner Chris Froome to playboy and two-time Tour Green Jersey winner Peter Sagan, our favorite riders will be within a day’s drive of Outside’s Santa Fe headquarters.

Some of us will be making the trip up to Aspen, while others will be cheering from their living rooms. But amid all the excitment, there’s a strong undercurrent of suspicion. Froome’s win was so dominating at the Tour, and the questions about his doping so relentless, that Froome’s director on Sky Pro Cycling, Sir Dave Brailsford, grabbed the microphone at a press conference in July to confront the media:

“We’ve wracked our brains thinking about ways we can satisfy people and make these questions go away,” he said. “Why don’t you collectively get organized and you tell me what we could do, so you wouldn’t have to ask the question?    

Nobody in the room had an answer—then or now. But it’s a question that has been asked—and answered before. On the eve of the 2006 Tour, 13 riders were expelled from the race, amoung them Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, and Alberto Contador. With the Tour’s reputation in tatters, the UCI, the sport’s governing body, moved to take a hardline against doping, instituing the biological passport in 2007.

The goal was to create a blood and urine profile for each professional cyclist that could be used to spot irregularities. Anti-doping specialists know how a cyclist’s body should respond to a long race or a bout of training. By establishing a baseline and regularly retesting riders, specialists could flag blood or urine results that didn’t match their expectations. An irregular value would lead to additional testing and in rare circumstances a suspension without a positive blood or urine test.     

Over the last six years, the system has worked—sort of. Eight riders have been caught and suspended on the basis of the biological passport data. And in 2011, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the court of last resort in doping cases, gave their nod of approval, validating two suspensions based on biological passport data alone.

Outrageous or sloppy cases of doping are now easy to spot. If riders are cheating and getting away with it, they’re no longer take large doses of EPO or even the micro-doses of recent years. Instead, riders are resorting to masking doses, capable of yielding only .25-.5 w/kg boost at 40-minute threshold power. Doping can still win races, but clean riders have some hope.    

The biological passport puts cycling leagues ahead of many sports, but it’s far from a foolproof solution. Dopers are still slipping through, and many observers and watchdogs are blaming the UCI. Anti-doping experts, as well as former dopers like Michael Rasmussen, who was expelled from the 2007 Tour, say that these new subtle and systematic approaches to cheating are still undetectable. The program “perhaps puts a damper on things,” Rasmussen says, “but it's absolutely no guarantee that cyclists do not undergo blood transfusions along the way.”     

More criticism has come from within the passport program itself. In 2012, Dr. Michael Ashenden, one of nine experts who reviewed rider data for the UCI, resigned from the program, saying that he had “noticed a significant gap between tests in some of the profiles.” What sounds like muted criticism was really an attack on the UCI’s credibility. For the passport to work, athletes need to be regularly tested. Reduce the number of tests, and the passport becomes nothing but a front, a publicity tool.

Lance Armstrong may have fallen, but can an organization with the same leadership in place that accepted, between 2002 and 2005, a total of $125,000 in “donations” from the discredited rider be truly trusted to root-out doping? For many, the answer was no. Into the void of credibility, organizations like Bike Pure and the Movement for Credible Cycling emerged, promising to help clean-up cycling by reforming the UCI and holding teams to a higher standard.

But their efforts have stalled. Bike Pure, an organization that aims to protect the integrity of cycling, has grown as a business but has done little more than sell rubber bracelets. The Movement for Credible Cycling, a union of teams dedicated to clean cycling, now includes 11 of 19 World Tour teams, but has failed to institute truly exacting or revolutionary demands. And by including known (and unrepentant) dopers like Alexander Vinokourov, the movement has compromised its credibility even as it’s grown.

Ahead of this year’s Tour, Bike Pure reentered the conversation by removing Froome from its list of endorsed riders. The timing struck many as exploitative, but their complaint—that he failed to release his power data—touched a nerve in the once-fringe world of power analysis. Pundits claimed that by examining Froome’s power data, they could prove that he was clean—or dirty. But Team Sky refused, saying that power data could be misinterpreted, that armchair experts and opponents couldn’t be trusted with the numbers.    

It’s hard to blame them. This kind of information can be twisted. When Bradley Wiggins, then riding for Team Garmin, released his blood data from the 2009 Tour, it didn’t exactly reassure his fans; rather, it opened up new questions and criticism that have yet to relent. When it comes to power numbers, Sky has taken a conservative approach in the fight against doping. But the team—despite appearances—has done more than most to create a clean environment.

They’ve released some of Froome’s power data to French daily L’Equipe, shared his TUE (medical exemptions to use prohibited substances) history, and fired team doctor Geert Leinders along with two members of their coaching staff for past involvement in doping.

Sky may be winning the fight behind closed doors, but they’re losing the PR battle. Froome didn’t just win the Tour, he dominated it, climbing at speeds not seen since the heyday of the doping era. And a cadre of anti-doping experts led by people like Michael Puchowicz M.D., who authors an anti-doping blog called VeloClinic, have been on the attack, incredulous that even a well-trained, preternaturally talented rider can exceed the “enhanced” times of yesteryear.

This kind of analysis has proven reliable when compared to actual data taken from the racers. But even the partial release of Froome’s power data to the public has not quelled the critics. En route to his 2006 Tour victory, Floyd Landis made his training and power data public, and still tested positive. Even Armstrong shared some blood data ahead of his 2009 comeback. Many have since noticed irregularities with his values, but at the time, many experts found them within the realm of normal.

If the experts are to be trusted, the cheats will always slip through. But the retroactive testing from the 1998 Tour and the subsequent fallout—at least four former riders have lost their jobs—shows that time may be anti-doping’s strongest ally. When Rasmussen came clean, he made one telling comment: “You just have to remember that even though the biological passport may not be the perfect solution, the truth will come out at one time or another. Even though I doped for 13 years and avoided being caught, the truth is not hidden at the end."    

It’s painful to admit as a fan, but we can’t prove innocence—at least in the present. And only sometimes can we even agree an athlete is guilty. This leaves us in a precarious position. We can either agree with Brailsford that Sky has done everything within reason, or we can say they haven’t gone far enough—and turn to extreme measures, of which there are no shortage: Four-time Tour stage winner Marcel Kittel recently underwent a lie detector test.

It might just be the beginning of such measures. Ian Dille, a former professional cyclist and journalist who writes often about doping issues in the sport, suggests the future of anti-doping may go so far as to include psychological testing and brain scans.

Cycling has been working hard to repair its reputation and as fans, we long for the day when we can watch such talented and committed athletes, like the ones who will be hammering the Colorado highways this week, without suspicion. For your consideration, here are several more steps the sport can take.

—Clean house at the UCI. In the upcoming UCI presidential election, riders and teams should vocally support a candidate with a clean past who makes pursuing a more transparent future the cornerstone of his campaign. The organizations corrupt leadership that aided and abetted doping must go.

—Strengthen the Movement for Credible Cycling. To prove their seriousness in the fight against doping, Team Sky should join the Movement for Credible Cycling and push to strengthen the organization’s standing. Teams like Astana, which recently signed ex-doper Franco Pellizotti in violation of the MPCC’s internal rules, should be booted from the organization. And under new leadership, the UCI should push race organizers to favor MPCC teams when selecting entrants.

—The UCI should cede all anti-doping responsibilities to WADA or other outside agencies. Throughout its history, the UCI has turned a blind eye to doping. Allowing the organization to remain in control of anti-doping efforts is a farcical. As detailed analysis done on the insider cycling site Cyclismas shows, it’s likely that the UCI has optimized testing to catch the fewest number of cheats. On outside organization will likely catch more dopers on the same number of tests than the biased or criminally incompetent UCI.

—The Biopassport needs to be reexamined, made more public and, if possible, strengthened by the inclusion of power data. As the Economist noted and Outside columnist and Mayo Clinic researcher Michael Joyner reiterated, transparency is not just a buzz-word—and it’s not just for the spectators. By showing professionals that the top riders are being tested and put to scrutiny, the incentives to dope decrease. Public numbers will also allow experts and watchdogs to crowd-source anti-doping efforts by flagging high-normal values, test results that don't result in positive readings but are highly suspicious and damning.

—Institute regular retroactive testing. The tests of today will always remain beatable. But the results of the 1998 retroactive testing show that what’s currently cutting-edge will one-day likely be easily detectable. By retesting samples and instituting strong fines for doping, the sport may be able to persuade riders that doping is a poor choice.

See you in Colorado.

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Northeastern Rivers Are Opening Up for Fish and Paddlers

We live in a country of old, decaying dams—many of which are being decommissioned and removed due to safety hazards and/or insufficient energy generation. In the past two years, breaches of three Washington dams—the 100-foot Condit dam on the White Salmon, the 108-foot Elwha dam and the 50-foot Glines Canyon dam, both on the Elwha River—have been widely lauded by conservation groups and paddlers alike because their removal means the reintroduction of historic salmon spawning grounds and in some cases new whitewater. With four rivers on the Klamath marked for possible removal, as well, all eyes are on the decline of outdated dams and the rise of salmon in the West.

Though they seem to receive less attention, similar changes are afoot on East Coast rivers, punctuated by the recent breach of the 100-year-old Veazie Dam on Maine's Penobscot River. This is the second large dam to be removed from the river in as many years, and aside from opening up large stretches of river to the endangered Atlantic salmon and Atlantic sturgeon the breaches are also changing the river for paddlers.

"After the Great Works dam was removed last year, Class II-III rapids appeared at the old dam site," says Scott Phillips, a former employee of local manufacturer Old Town Canoe, and owner of Northeast Sports in Old Town, on the shores of the Penobscot. "It's yet to be determined what the stretch of river around the Veazie will become, but probably Class II-III, as well."

With or without whitewater, Phillips believes the freed river is going to attract more outfitters and guides: "More people are going to start paddling this forgotten river. People are going to start guiding trips, renting boats, and in the springtime, when the water is highest, I can imagine people running raft trips down this river."

The Penobscot's restoration is important because it is the largest watershed in Maine and home to the Penobscot Indian Nation, which relied on the fishery before the dams depleted them.  

"The biggest thing is bringing back the fish populations," says Phillips, who is a Penobscot Indian. "My dad is 73, a tribal elder, and he can't wait for the Atlantic salmon to come back [in large numbers]. He already has his traditional spear ready." But whether his dad, or even Phillips himself, will live to see the salmon population rebound significantly is yet unknown.

The Veazie's removal, which began in July and should be completed in two years, was made possible through a private-public partnership brokered by the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, which worked with the government, conservation groups, the hydropower companies and the Penobscot Indian Nation.

Other Rivers
"The Penobscot is without question a very substantial river and used for canoeing and kayaking at all levels, from flat water to Class V," says Bob Nasdor, northeast stewardship director for American Whitewater. But it's not the first major Northeast waterway to be freed up.

The Edwards Dam was removed from the Kennebec River, also in Maine, in 1999 – a historic event because it "marked the first time the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that the ecological value of a free-flowing river was greater than the economic value of a dam," according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The Kennebec has really had a renaissance of recreation [since the dam came down]," says Brian Graber, acting senior director of restoration for advocacy group American Rivers. "For decades, Augusta and the surrounding area had turned their back on the river," but the focus on the river since the dam's removal has made it a great success. Most importantly, spawning fish are returning.

Though not as prominent, the removal of the Pawtuxet Falls dam, which was removed in 2011, was the largest such project in Rhode Island history and opened up seven miles of river and wetlands to fish, including spawning herring and shad, and to paddlers.

This August, the Dufresne Dam on Vermont's Batten Kill is scheduled for removal, which has anglers—including those who work at Orvis, headquartered in nearby Manchester—looking forward to improved fly-fishing for trout.
 
In New Hampshire, the Bunker Pond dam on the Lamprey River, a National Wild & Scenic waterway, was removed in 2011. Like the dam on the Pawtuxet—and like many eastern dams—it was built to power a long-gone mill. It was also far more costly to maintain than to remove.

The Taunton River in Massachusetts is also undergoing change. The removal of the Whittenton Dam, on its tributary the Mill River, is underway now. The freed up river will give more spawning grounds to river herring, which are important prey for striped bass and other large fish.

In total, American Rivers has tracked the removal of an impressive 96 dams on Northeastern rivers since 1991.

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The Great White Shark Returns to Cape Cod

DAVE LAMOUREUX WAS paddling his sea kayak out from the beach at Truro, a small town near the northern tip of Cape Cod, when he saw something bob to the surface off his bow. It was a calm, clear Atlantic morning last July, and at first Lamoureux, a 45-year-old titanium businessman who has made a name for himself on the Cape by fishing for tuna from his kayak, thought it was a seal feeding on a striped bass. He coasted forward to take a look. Two fins emerged from the water, about seven feet apart. Lamoureux realized that he wasn’t approaching a live seal but a dead one, and it was in the mouth of a great white shark. He had just baited his lines, so his deck was covered with fish blood. He reversed course and headed for shore, trying to keep calm. The shark followed. It was longer than his 12-foot kayak. Eventually, it disappeared under the surface. Lamoureux kept paddling, his mind racing, until he reached shore and pulled out near an old fisherman. “Feeling lucky, are you?” asked the fisherman. Lamoureux was, and the feeling resurfaced four weeks later, when news broke that the first great white attack in Cape history had occurred off the same beach, a nonfatal bite of a tourist from Denver who was swimming near some seals.

The return of great white sharks to the waters off Cape Cod sets up what promises to be a fascinating test case for ecological restoration: What happens when a terrifying apex predator makes a comeback in a tourism hotbed known for lobster shacks, mini golf, and family-friendly beaches? So far it’s been a surprisingly soft collision—Cape residents have mostly welcomed the sharks. But the good vibes could fade quickly in the wake of a fatal attack. Should that happen, East Coast beach-goers will start facing the choice that communities in places like California, Western Australia, and South Africa have dealt with for decades: Do we still go into the water? Because the sharks on the Cape, which arrive in May and remain until December, aren’t going away anytime soon.

It’s been a long road to recovery for great whites on the Atlantic seaboard. In 1975, Steven Spielberg set Peter Benchley’s Jaws in a small Massachusetts resort community, ushering in an era of fear that coincided with the wholesale slaughter of sharks in U.S. waters. (Benchley spent much of his life trying to make amends as a born-again conservationist.) Three years earlier, though, Congress had passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which outlawed the killing of seals, a common practice at the time among commercial fishermen, who saw them as competition. Gray seals, a primary food source for great whites on the East Coast, have rebounded and can be found from Long Island to Nova Scotia. Sharks can be found along that same stretch, but for now they’ve focused on Monomoy Island, a federally protected spit of land with an estimated 10,000 seals, located just a few miles from the public beach at the quaint Cape Cod tourist town of Chatham.

Half-eaten seals started washing up on Cape beaches five years ago. In September 2009, a commercial fisherman and pilot was flying over Monomoy Island when he spotted two great whites near Chatham, prompting beach closures over Labor Day weekend and a brief media onslaught. There have been other sightings since, but things escalated last July when a photo of a shark tailing a kayaker at Nauset Beach, north of Chatham, went viral. Then came the attack on the Denver man.

The media once again descended—ABC, NBC, and Fox News all ran Cape shark stories—but local response was both measured and enlightened. In part, this is because the sharks have proven to be good business. Gift shops in town are hawking shark jewelry and pink halter tops emblazoned with great white jawbones. Some owners have been donating part of their fish-related proceeds to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. Last summer, the Chatham Chamber of Commerce sponsored an art installation called Sharks in the Park. When the Denver tourist was attacked, local consensus was that he had it coming: he swam 100 yards out to a sandbar near two seals. A protest campaign even sprang up last September when researchers with Ocearch, a shark-advocacy nonprofit led by former television personality Chris Fischer, caught a great white and inserted a tracking device in its dorsal fin. Residents were worried the fish would be harmed.

Still, fondness for the toothy predators may change “if a 12-year-old kid gets attacked,” admits Greg Skomal, a scien-tist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and one of the leading shark researchers on the Cape. That’s by no means inevitable: according to Simon Thorrold, a senior scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the number of great whites around the Cape is “likely in the tens.” So far, 34 tagged individuals have been recorded in Cape waters, some of them cruising within 15 feet of shore, in as little as ten feet of water.

“Something would be wrong with me if I said I wasn’t concerned,” says Orleans harbormaster Dawson Farber, 40, responsible for public safety at Nauset Beach. A lifelong Cape resident, he no longer allows his children to swim off Atlantic beaches alone.

So far, efforts to ensure public safety have been limited to signs warning swimmers to keep away from seals. There aren’t many other options. In Western Australia, spotter planes look out for great whites near swimming areas. But aircraft are expensive and would be less useful on the Cape, where water visibility is poor. Another possibility is an array of underwater sensors that would alert harbormasters to the presence of tagged sharks. But that could impart a false sense of security. “Are you going to base your management on what might be a small percentage of the population?” asks Farber.

The odds of attack are, of course, minuscule; South Africa, which has a far higher number of great whites, averages one a year. You’re much more likely to be hit by a drunk driver or pulled out by a riptide. But man-eating fish have a way of inciting mass hysteria. Exactly how East Coasters would handle a fatal attack is an open question. But this much is sure: the presence of the ocean’s most feared predator marks a major step toward the recovery of a fully functioning ecosystem in the waters off Cape Cod.

“We’ve become insulated from nature,” says Thorrold. “If we want to have a wild ocean, there are some things we have to live with. An extremely slight risk of shark attack is one of those.”                  

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