Tuckerton – The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) proposed regulations on coastal development –the first since Hurricane Sandy – were blasted at the final public hearing by environmental organizations and the public. Advocates criticized the proposed regulations as failing to account for climate change’s impacts, including sea level rise and increased storm surges, as allowing more high-density development and expanding coastal centers.
Environment New Jersey delivered more than 19,400 comments from New Jersey residents across the state, collected as part of a massive door-to-door education campaign on how to sustainably restore the Shore, advocating for stronger coastal protections.
“These DEP rules show that the Christie Administration is still denying climate change in practice,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “These rules will deregulate and increase sprawl across the Shore. By allowing for unchecked development, we are only placing New Jerseyans at risk and setting ourselves up for future body blows from extreme weather.”
New Jersey has seen the effects of climate change and will continue to see changes in sea level rise and increased storm surges for decades to come. Heavy precipitation events in the Northeast have increased dramatically in the past two decades, occurring more than twice as often in recent years than during the past century. This trend is expected to continue and will undoubtedly lead to increased floods within the region. New Jersey’s sea level is also rising faster than the global average. The latest Rutgers climate research predicts that by 2050, New Jersey’s coast will have already experienced a 1.5-foot sea level rise. As a result, the damages felt by floods will nearly double. In addition, by removing beaches and dunes, one is removing natural barriers that would prevent against storm surges. As a result, New Jersey’s densely populated coast will undoubtedly face substantial increases in coastal flooding, erosion, and property damage.
“Hurricane Sandy was a disaster that hit our coast, and these rules are a disaster as well,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We have a chance to rebuild New Jersey smarter and better. Instead, we are promoting sprawl and overdevelopment. We can choose to protect our coast, clean up our storm water, restore natural systems. But instead, the proposed rules will make things worse. We need rules that will protect our coast for future generations, but under these rules the Jersey Shore we all love may not be there.”
NJDEP’s new rules simply ignore the science of sea level rise. Other Sandy-hit states such as New York, Delaware, and Maryland are rebuilding higher based on predicted sea level rise. They are rebuilding an additional 2 feet higher than what is federally recommended – the same height that Rutgers scientists recommended for New Jersey. However, New Jersey has failed to place such requirements on houses along the Shore and Barnegat Bay. The lack of attention given to the science of sea level rise in the proposed DEP regulations is clearly at odds with other states.
The NJDEP coastal development rule proposal claims that the regulations only work to eliminate red tape and increase governmental transparency. However, the rules retreat from NJDEP’s statutory responsibility to protect coastal communities, including:
- The NJDEP Coastal Zone Management Rule has created a system called “permit certification.” This system allows developers to automatically receive permits via an online system without any governmental review or public comment.
- There are new loopholes for marinas, which allow for restaurants, hotels and commercial establishments to be built in high hazard areas.
- The rule accepts surfaces that are non porous such as lawns, crushed stone, and compacted shells as permeable, which leads to increased storm runoff and flooding.
- There are no vulnerability assessments to reconsider growth centers at all, which would slate locations that were flooded during Hurricane Sandy for increased development, including Mystic Island, Eagleswood Twp. and here in Tuckerton.
The NJDEP rules on coastal development fail to take steps to help protect coastal regions from flooding. The rules weaken current requirements aimed at controlling the creation of stormwater. If New Jersey truly wanted to minimize storm water runoff it should consider modeling itself off of the city of Philadelphia. The city has created a storm water utility, which collects a small fee from Philadelphia residents to go towards green infrastructure that reduces flooding within the urban area. Such infrastructure includes storm water tree trenches, storm water planters, and pervious pavement. The proposed NJDEP rules provide for no such innovative and proactive approaches to dealing with storm water. Instead the rules actively allow development that would only increase the amount of flooding within coastal regions.
“Especially troubling is DEP’s stealth relaxation of siting controls on Confined Disposal Facilities (CDF),” said William Potter, attorney for residents of Eagleswood Township (Ocean County) challenging DEP approvals for construction of the largest CDF in the Mid-Atlantic region. “A CDF is a kind of open air landfill for dumping frequently toxic dredge spoils,” Potter added. “Due to their environmental harms, no CDF should be allowed anywhere near residential or recreational areas, but that is exactly what these new regulations would allow. Before a CDF is permitted anywhere along New Jersey’s coastline,” Potter concluded, “DEP should require strict compliance with the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA), including submission of an EIS that discloses the full range of cumulative and secondary impacts, such as those caused by the DEP plan to promote ‘mining’ of dewatered dredge spoils for so-called ‘beneficial reuse.”
“These newly proposed regulations are a step in the complete opposite direction we should be heading,” said Kyle Gronostajski, director of the Alliance for a Living Ocean, a Long Beach Island-based environmental non-profit. “Sandy should have been the necessary wake up call to realize unchecked development along our coastlines will only become more costly in the future due to sea level rise and other environmental issues. The proposed regulations will only exasperate the issues our coastlines currently face by allowing for more harm to these fragile areas in the form of more building with little to no consideration given to the impacts on the environment. Sandy gave us the chance to think smarter and build better communities; to continue on a similar, if not worse path will surely lead to more costly failures in the future.”
Environment New Jersey petitions were officially entered into the public record with more than 19,000 New Jerseyans advocating to see the Shore restored in an environmentally responsible way. Citizens advocated for a flood-preventing infrastructure and the preservation of wetlands and beaches along the coast, as well as acknowledging and planning for climate change and working to reduce carbon emissions.
“DEP has chosen fast and expansive development over smart coastal protection policies,” said O’Malley. “We should take this opportunity after Sandy to try and protect the Shore, restore natural systems, and improve our resilience against future storm surges and sea level rise. This is a lost opportunity that sticks the DEP’s head in the sand.”