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Cost To Military Of Extreme Weather Events Is Likely To Grow


When Hurricane Florence barreled through the southeast four months ago, it wreaked damage on one of the country's most important military bases, the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Well, military officials finally tallied the cost of that damage.


GENERAL ROBERT NELLER: The total bill comes to about $3.6 billion.

KELLY: That's the Corps' top officer, General Robert Neller, speaking to lawmakers last month. Jay Price of member station WUNC visited the base and found the cost to the military of extreme weather events such as Florence is likely to grow.

JAY PRICE, BYLINE: In the four months since the hurricane, the extraordinary amount of damage to the main East Coast Marine base has kind of flown under the radar. That's because it just isn't spectacular. When you drive around the massive base, all you see is dozens and dozens of blue tarps draped over roofs.

TONY SHOLAR: Obviously, we've had more water damage from last night. This water was - it was dry in here the last time.

PRICE: Tony Sholar is a civilian with the command that oversees East Coast Marine facilities. He took me inside the now-abandoned headquarters of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. It had rained the night before.

SHOLAR: Clearly, the roof still has some leaks in it, and last night's rain would've leaked some more.

PRICE: The huge, slow-moving storm first damaged hundreds of roofs on the base and then dumped water inside the buildings for three days. All told, 70 buildings need major renovations and about 130 will have to be replaced - among them, the main headquarters for East Coast-based fighting forces, which was built in 1942 as a hospital.

MAJOR GENERAL VINCENT COGLIANESE: It has 14 separate wings like the old hospitals would have.

PRICE: Major General Vincent Coglianese oversees all Marine Corps facilities.

COGLIANESE: We don't want to repair a 376,000-square-foot building that really wasn't configured correctly. It's got 70,000 feet of hallway.

PRICE: He says it must be demolished and replaced with a sturdier, more efficient building farther from the riverfront it sits on now. Climate experts say Congress should be prepared to pay for a lot more damage like this to crucial bases. Shana Udvardy is a climate resilience analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

SHANA UDVARDY: What we know with climate change and global warming is that we're going to see more extreme weather events. And this means more powerful storms, more rising seas and heavy rainfall events.

PRICE: Udvardy was one of the authors of a 2016 report that underlined threats that climate change poses to U.S. military bases, including Lejeune. Other bases, including Parris Island, Naval Air Station Key West and the world's largest naval base in Norfolk, face even greater risks.

UDVARDY: And what the military already knows is that climate change indeed is a national security threat.

PRICE: At Lejeune, it's not just buildings that were damaged. A swing bridge to the barrier island where the Marines do their signature amphibious assault training needs to be replaced. And the training beach itself was partly washed away. Colonel Brian Wolford is chief of staff for the main East Coast fighting forces command.

COLONEL BRIAN WOLFORD: So operationally, you know, the MEF is back to work. We have a mission to accomplish.

PRICE: The II Marine Expeditionary Force, or II MEF.

WOLFORD: But we're doing it in suboptimal conditions. We're also employing field techniques across the MEF when we have facilities that no longer can perform their mission.

PRICE: Field techniques mean things like trailers - 61 now and another 140 on the way - and two or even three units are packed into headquarters designed for one.

WOLFORD: Things that normally take, you know, one hour take two to three hours to do.

PRICE: And not included in the $3.6 billion - hundreds of on-base homes are still being repaired. Marines transferring in are being told to leave their families behind if they can't find suitable housing. For NPR News, I'm Jay Price in Camp Lejeune, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR NewsEnvironment
Jay Price is the military and veterans affairs reporter for North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC.