Friday, December 16, 2016

Science, Policy & Politics: Class Project!!

This past Fall 2016, graduate students in my (i.e. Dr. Weinkle) Science, Policy & Politics (MCOP 592) turned out an impressive looking website on Beach Nourishment.

The course sought to map a knowledge controversy or looked at another way, a controversy that makes use of difference knowledges.  So... people fight over facts in order to fight over values.

It was my pleasure to guide the class through their inquiry and help them grapple with conflicting information and perspectives.

The project began with a controversy of interest: Recreational fishermen and beach nourishment projects.  The class focused hard on fishermen, prodded the peer reviewed literature and information available from other sources: businesses groups, online forums, and NGO's.  At this point, they came to an "Aha!" moment:  There are lots of facts, ways of knowing about these projects, and interests demonstrate preferences for each.  Fishermen are but one interest involved in a far larger social, political and scientific controversy surrounding beach nourishment.    

***In more recent years, the US Army Corps of Engineers has changed their vernacular from "Beach nourishment"to storm risk reduction projects- It's spin either way.  But then, strategic planning is now called self- study =).

And so, they branched out... Who else is involved here?  What do they say? Where do they get their information?  How does everyone fit together?

Check out the site here:

While informative, keep in mind that the site is a class project and a learning tool.  All error is due the clumsiness of the learning experience (including, my own).

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

UNCW Student Debt Low Compared to Other Colleges and Universities

Just in time for Black Friday shoppers!  

Word on the town is that students of UNCW graduate with lower student loan debt than those from other institutions.  The beach and a bargain =) 

UNCW news reports: 
On average, students at the University of North Carolina Wilmington graduate with lower debt than their peers at other institutions, a study of 1,200 colleges and universities has found. The university ranked 55th among public institutions with the lowest debt load and 124th on a combined list of public and private institutions. 
Within North Carolina, the university ranked 5th in minimizing student debt.

Read more here.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Center for Marine Science Open House and Science Carnival

The UNCW Center for Marine Science (CMS) on Crest Campus is hosting an Open House and Science Carnival, October 1 11-3:30.  Students of the Master of Coastal and Ocean Policy program will man a booth passing out flyers and answering questions.  

Come visit!  Crest Campus is Beautiful and there is sure to be some fun stuff to see, touch and learn =)

You can find more information about the event on the CMS website

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

New Op-Ed about Science, Policy and Politics

I (Jessica Weinkle) have an op-ed in the Wilmington Star News Today.  

The title is a bit harsher than I would have preferred.  But the work is meant to respectfully approach the touchy subject of scientists and subtle issue advocacy work. 

The work served as a good case study to kick off the start of the new semester today!  My class didn't read the op-ed.  Instead, we used some of the materials I referenced in the op-ed to stir a good discussion about facts and values and different expectations one holds for scientists and policymakers.

You can read about it here.  An excerpt is below...
Politics is the essence of community deliberation. Inclusive political discourse is well served by a healthy democracy. Today, a resounding swath of America feel left out of the political conversation and in turn, many are skeptical America’s claims to democratic governance. 
Resolving political conflict often has more to do with addressing differences in the public’s moral consciousness than it does with advancing science. Yet, in recent decades the language of science and technology - often wrongly mistaken as free from personal values - has replaced a user-friendly moral discourse. 
North Carolina is a heated battleground for political debate played out through a haze of science. The state garnered national comedic reputation and the science community became enraged when the N.C. legislature regulated the assumptions used in producing sea level rise estimates.
The estimate is a key number in calculating erosion rates used to regulate coastal development. Those opposed to development tend to favor higher estimates of sea level rise. 
However, when estimates of risk threaten the state economy and political stability, it is common for policymakers to control the conception of risk imposed upon the public. 
Most recently, Dr. Stanley Riggs, of East Carolina University, left his long-term, respected position with the Coastal Resources Commission Science Panel due to concerns that the panel’s work has become politicized by pressure to produce information supporting a rigorous policy of growth and development. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

MCOP Students in the News

One of the features of the Master of Coastal and Ocean Policy program is the flexibility to learn more about a specific area of research through independent research projects guided by a UNCW faculty member.

Recently, two MCOP students, Jonathan Bingham and Kathy Cyr, worked on a research project overseen by Dr. Larry Cahoon exploring the potential for the Port of Wilmington to employ lighter vessels.  The work received press by the locally influential environmental interest organization, The Coastal Federation.  

In a post-PanaMax world, ports (and the economy they support) are struggling to remain accessible to cargo ships.  Dredging wider and deeper channels is an option, but it expensive and taxing on ecosystems.  Cahoon, Bingham, and Cyr found that lighter vessels provide a promising policy alternative.

You can read the story here.

Way to go Kathy and Jonathan!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Navassa Superfund Redevelopment

Yesterday evening, Dr. Jennifer Biddle, assistant professor, MCOP advisor, and Coastal Federation Board Member, led a group of Public and International Affairs graduate students in providing an original report to the local town, Navassa, on opportunities for redeveloping a Superfund sight.  

The group effort was highlighted in the local Star News yesterday.  Below is an excerpt,
The students' work on Navassa’s behalf is part of a collaboration between Navassa and UNCW, which is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency’s College/Underserved Community Partnership. The UNCW students working on Navassa’s behalf are earning their master's degrees in public administration or coastal and ocean policy. 
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to work with real-world clients,” said Jennifer Biddle, assistant professor in UNCW’s Department of Public & International Affairs. “And also, the goal is to really help the town. The town is our client. We’re giving policy and planning assistance.” 
The students’ assessment is a first step of a comprehensive policy analysis UNCW will give Navassa for the restoration and redevelopment of its contaminated land. A policy analysis is a tool to assess the merit and feasibility of redevelopment alternatives before the formal policy formation phase begins. 
A well-done policy analysis, which often undergoes several iterations, increases the likelihood that proposed legislation will be adopted, according to the report, “Exploring the Future of Navassa: An Integrative and Evaluative Framework,” Biddle and the students wrote. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Negotiating beach nourishment benefits and costs

Jonathan Bingham is working on his Master of Science degree in Coastal and Ocean Policy at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he also received his Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences.   He has lived in Wilmington for almost a decade. Jonathan began his career project management branch at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Wilmington, NC, and quickly became involved in Federal navigation, coastal storm damage reduction, and environmental restoration projects across coastal North Carolina. His background and experience, in the sciences and involvement in complex policies and politics, ignited his interest in the coastal policy field. 

Coastal storm damage reduction project at Carolina Beach, NC undergoing its final federally funded periodic nourishment in April 2016.
Beaches – many parties have an interest in them.  Beachfront homeowners, the summertime tourist, businesses that make a living from beachgoers, outdoorsy folks, tax collectors, and even those people who bike to the beach because they’d rather not fight for parking (especially this guy right here). 

Since the 1960s, our NC beach towns have grown substantially.  Today, multi-million dollar properties fill the coastline and tourism is a cornerstone of our local and national economy. This valuable development exists in areas vulnerable to flooding and storm damage.  Because of this modern day beach-lifestyle “baggage,” someone has to pay to strategically develop and protect beach communities from storm damages.

The federal government invested in multiple programs through different federal agencies as a means to protect, reduce, and enable community development in these areas. In the 1960s, the federal government started investing in Coastal Storm Damage Reduction (AKA beach nourishment) projects to protect and reduce damages at beaches, and the communities have become highly dependent on beach nourishment projects for their livelihood. I expect a major shift in federal funding and coastal policies in the near future, as the federal government is tightening budgets and politically beginning to slip out of this costly, never-ending business.

The federal government decided to enter into the business of protecting citizens and property from flood damages in 1936 (Flood Control Act), following serious flooding on the Mississippi River in the 1920’s and 1930’s that brought the problem to the national spotlight. 

It wasn’t long before the government began protecting beach communities from the serious flooding associated with hurricanes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implements the federal government’s coastal storm damage reduction program. These pre-disaster mitigation actions are very efficient at reducing storm damages, when beach nourishment is consistently maintained. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), acting under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, fully supports preserving, protecting, developing, restoring and enhancing, the Nation's resources within the coastal zone. Later, in 1982 Congress passed the Coastal Barrier Resources Act in order to curb any further development using federal expenditures and financial assistance. This act, enforced by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), realized that the federal government has historically subsidized and encouraged development, such as federal flood insurance, on coastal barriers, resulting in threats to human life, health, and property; the loss of natural resources; and the expenditure of millions of tax dollars each year.

There’s a disconnect happening between federal agencies, and conflicting missions cloud the overall goal of the federal government. The questions at hand are: what should the federal government’s pre-disaster stake in coastal development be? Then, does the existing legislation meet the goal? I chose to look at the protection portion of a federal coastal investment policy under the Corps of Engineers, and build a recommendation that uses our current state of development, trends and projections in order to improve the program for all stakeholders involved (federal and local taxpayers, home-owners, tourists, business owners, etc.).

Coastal storm events causing billion-dollar losses and total costs associated
with the storms (2013 dollars) Source: NRC 2014
There are limits to how nourishment project costs and benefits are calculated.   This alters the degree of justification and importance reported to Congress.   On top of that, the trends indicate fiscal responsibilities are shifting away from the federal government and towards the beach communities, likely because of shifting federal budget priorities. However, because of a decrease in the Corps’ funding for coastal storm damage reduction projects, trends demonstrate that storm impact costs are rising, such as: higher losses and post-storm damage costs, and a higher percentage of federal aid to cover these costs. 

Percentage of federal aid through the years following major hurricanes
Source: Michel-Kerjan 2013
I aim to meet policy goals such as: increase the reduction of flood damages to property and infrastructure, increase coastal emergency safety and reduction in loss of life, decrease federal emergency declarations, reduce federal expenditures towards managing coastal risk, and develop an improved benefit-cost analysis, which includes real risks and actual benefits. After an alternatives analysis, I found that restructuring the Corps’ program with updated Congressional legislation would best address the issues surrounding the protection portion of a federal coastal investment policy. In seeking coastal resiliency for the future, a reduction of risk to federal taxpayers, and a true benefit-cost analysis, I saw the need to reduce the federal government’s cost-share in the CSDR program and to establish consistent federal values across multiple agencies for pre-disaster mitigation actions. These recommended actions support a reformed federal coastal investment strategy, with consistently funded and supported policies and programs, in order to lessen overall costs for all parties involved with coastal living.