The NJ Sierra Club‘s Jeff Tittle has written a series of perceptive blog posts about Sandy for BrickPatch.com; leaving aside his frequent criticisms of Governor Christie, here are some key excerpts that mostly just lay out the facts:
…This is the ninth such devastating storm to hit the Garden State in the last five years and the impacts of climate change will only make such storms worse. We have had hurricanes and Halloween snow storms. There have been too many coincidences. You cannot deny that climate disruption is a factor and it is impacting New Jersey.
We need to protect our families from the impacts of climate disruption and sea level rise. In New Jersey we deserve strong action by our leaders to help reduce the likelihood and severity of future disasters.
Hurricane Sandy is our worst fears come true. This is exactly the kind of storm climate scientists and environmentalists warned about and now we have seen firsthand the impacts from these types of storms. We are concerned that without real policy changes such storms will not only continue to happen but will get much worse.
The areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy are the areas we have said for a long time are most vulnerable for flooding and storm surges. Yet we have done nothing to increase protections in those areas. Climate scientist and environmentalists have been worried for years about overdevelopment on barrier islands along our coasts. Given climate change and sea level rise these areas are even more vulnerable to hurricanes such as Sandy.
A study by Rutgers University four years ago found that given the storm surges as a result of climate change, 9% of New Jersey’s land area could be under water. Some of these areas are the fastest growing places in New Jersey. Other places are critical infrastructure for the state such as Newark Airport, nuclear power plants, electrical generation plants, sewer plants, chemical plants, and transportation hubs. Even Meadowlands Stadium could be underwater. One day when the Giants play the Dolphins, they could be real dolphins. We have failed to protect this vital infrastructure, including drinking water intakes and sewer plants from storm surges.
Climate disruption worsens extreme weather, threatening our families and communities. Scientists agree that climate change can cause rain and snowstorms, drought periods, and wildfires to become more severe….
In addition to relief aid we need our leaders to come up with better polices to address the impacts of flooding and climate change on our coast and flood prone areas. It is going to take partnership and difficult choices on limiting development in flood prone areas, moving people out of harm’s way and developing real comprehensive programs to reduce greenhouse gases and protect us from climate change and sea level rise.
Dunes are vitally important to the coast of New Jersey. They protect against beach erosion, provide habitats for all types of species, and just as important protect property from storms and storm surges. Those places that have had intact dunes fare much better in storms like Hurricane Sandy than places that do not.
However, New Jersey has not maintained dunes properly in many areas of the state and in other areas dunes are not even required. Now we see the consequences of those actions. Nature may have brought the storms, but the failure to protect our dunes made the damage worse in some places.
In order to receive money for beach replenishment and dune replacements towns must provide public access. Unfortunately some communities would rather have no dunes than provide adequate beach access. Under the revised Beach Access Rules, the towns can now draft their own municipal plans to provide access with no standards and no enforcement if the access is not provided. Municipalities have also rejected dunes because they did not want to block views.
We have also allowed some towns to do beach replenishment and widen beaches without building dunes. We have even allowed towns to cut down their dunes so that beach bars can have better views of the water.
We have seen property owners challenge dunes because either they do not want the public on the beach or they do not want their views blocked. There was a case in Long Beach Island where property taxes were reduced because dunes blocked their view. In March a case in Harvey Cedars took this a step further with the home owners not only asking for property taxes reductions due to dunes but actually suing for compensation for the dunes being close to their property.
LBI has been one of the hardest hit areas because they do not have dunes. Long Beach Township did not have dunes in places because they did not want to provide beach access. About 300 people came out to testify against the revised Beach Access Rules in Long Beach Township last summer. The only person who spoke in favor of these rules was the mayor.
Areas such as Long Beach that were hit the hardest will be looking for more federal disaster relief to rebuild when they actually brought it on themselves. We have a system that rewards bad planning and actions by government and citizens because the places that failed to do what was right want more money to fix what they did wrong.
Now as we rebuild our dunes using public money there has to be public access. We cannot allow towns to use public money to rebuild dunes, and turn around and deny the public access to beaches or waterways.
Hurricane Sandy forever changed what the Jersey Shore will look like. Our hearts go out to all of those impacted and we will rebuild one of the most important areas of our state. We must and we will rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. However we need to do it better, smarter, and in the right places.
When we rebuild we must ensure it is done in a way to keep families out of harm’s way and to reduce the likelihood that such a loss of lives and property could happen again in the future. It is important for our economy to rebuild the right way because these storms will keep coming. As we recover from Hurricane Sandy we need to put in place good planning and land use policies that protect our families from the impacts of climate disruption and sea level rise.
There are areas that have been damaged that we need to rebuild such as Atlantic City and Asbury Park, but we need to do it the right way. We cannot allow more growth in flood prone areas and must limit development upstream of those areas. We need to do a better job managing stormwater and preventing combined sewer overflows. Certain areas we should buy out or let them rebuild somewhere else because they are too vulnerable to flooding and storm surges. New Jersey now has the opportunity to implement good planning along our coastal areas to better protect people and property from future disasters.
We need to stop using public money to subsidize development in the wrong places. Disaster relief must not keep using taxpayer money to rebuild the same house again and again in the wrong location. Instead they should be giving them money to rebuild somewhere else.
Our open space fund is out of money so we will not be able to purchase many of these sites through the Blue Acres Program, which helps move families out of harm’s way. We could have preserved lands to create more dunes and areas for flood water storage but now those opportunities will be lost. We need to restore natural system like flood plains ans wetlands to mitigate the impacts of these storms.
Many of the areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy are slated for more growth under the Governor’s State Strategic Plan and under coastal regulations such as Lacey, Stafford, and Toms River. In the regulated coastal zone in Ocean County we could add 200,000 more people based on existing regulations. An additional 100,000 people could be added to Lakewood as well, more than doubling Ocean County’s population.
As we rebuild we need to revise our building codes so structures stand up better to higher winds and flooding. We need to build further back from flood prone areas and the dunes and also make sure we elevate not only houses but key infrastructure. We should be promoting more green homes and energy efficient buildings when we rebuild as well.
Maintaining the character of the communities is critical as we rebuild. This must not become an excuse to put high rise luxury housing in areas that were once small bungalows. We hope the Jersey Shore continues to be the Jersey Shore.
We also need to do a better job restoring and protecting dunes along our coast. DEP needs to enforce coastal violations, especially with development in the wrong places and that encroaches on dunes. Dunes are critically important for property protection and the environment, especially during storm surges.
As we learn more about the level and depth of devastation along our coast it is becoming even clearer that Hurricane Sandy was truly a catastrophe. 74,000 structures were damaged and around 5,000 buildings destroyed or severely damaged, impacting so many lives. When we rebuild, which we must do, we have to do it better and, more importantly, smarter.
Close to a quarter of New Jersey Transit’s equipment was damaged or destroyed. More than 60% of people in the state lost power. Roadways and bridges were washed away. The human tragedy was enormous and we have to address those problems to move the state forward.
We need to look at the mistakes of the past to embrace a better future. When changes were proposed to the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) to close loopholes and strengthen regulations, the builders and their allies were able to stop those positive changes, even after Hurricane Floyd. Legislation that would have set up a catastrophic insurance pool so that tax payers would not be on the hook for repairing the shore after a major storm event was blocked. Attempts at regulatory fixes under Governors Whitman and McGreevy to limit sprawl along the coast were stopped and now what progress was made is being undone by the Christie administration….
We now have the opportunity to fix the mistakes of the past, to protect our coast, grow our economy, and make sure we have a Jersey Shore for future generations. These are some critical policies and practices that we need to revise, create, and eliminate so that we can rebuild the coast in the right way and keep people and property safe.
Coastal Commission. A coastal council would help coordinate efforts to rebuild along the shore and ensure we protect vital infrastructure, do proper planning and zoning, and develop building codes. During the recovery, this body would help coordinate funding and regional rebuilding activities so that redevelopment in one town does not negatively impact neighboring communities.
Better Planning. New Jersey needs to adopt the new FEMA flood maps, and start implementing adaptation and hazard planning along our coast to make sure we build in the right places using sound science and based on capacity of drinking water and wastewater.
Better Building. We need to strengthen our building codes and rebuild homes and businesses making them more energy efficient. The state should offer rebates and other incentives to replace all the loss appliances with energy star appliances as well as other energy efficient building codes. Designing new homes using green technology, recycled material, even salvaged timber from buildings destroyed by storms will help to move the state forward and protect our environment.
Fix the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA). We need to close loopholes and change the impervious cover limits to allow less development in environmentally sensitive areas. We need to end the exemption for developments of less than 25 units so that impervious cover limits and protections of sensitive features apply to new projects along our shore.
Fix Single Family Exemption. We need to change the current law that allows buildings to be rebuild in the same footprint. There are some places where it is appropriate, but other areas where it is not.
Infrastructure. We need to protect and rebuild vital infrastructure in the right places and rebuild dunes and coastal wetlands to protect against the impacts of future storms. We need an infrastructure assessment to determine where we need to upgrade infrastructure to meet the demands of rebuilding the shore as well as the rest of New Jersey.
Catastrophic Insurance Pool. We cannot allow people to keep rebuilding in the same place and have tax payers foot the bill each time there is a storm. We need to put in place a catastrophic insurance pool so tax payers are not on the hook to cover all the costs.
Blue Acres Funding. Our open space fund is out of money so we will not be able to purchase many of these sites through the Blue Acres Program. We need funds restored to help move families out of harm’s way.
Natural Systems. As we rebuild, we need to require dunes and that they are properly maintained. We need natural systems like tide pools and coastal wetlands to reduce flooding impacts on residents.
We must and we will rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. However we need to do it better, smarter, and in the right places. New Jersey needs to fundamentally change how and where we build along our flood prone areas.
We certainly agree with much of this. At the same time, state policies alone are not enough; communities themselves must become engaged if we’re going to arrive at sustainable outcomes. Sustainability is not just an environmental regulation problem; it’s also a matter of social beliefs and behaviors.
Our main goal is to provide access to directly usable information, but understanding the underlying issues and the scientific facts is equally essential. The value of this kind of thinking is that it provides a basis for broadening the community dialogue. The Sierra Club, under Tittle’s leadership, is mainly an advocacy organization. Other groups — including CALL, which emerged from the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities campaign — are needed to deliver practical solutions and results.
But the NJ Sierra Club’s web site does include helpful listings of distribution centers, drop-off sites, meal offerings, and volunteer opportunities, from Aberdeen to Zarephath; and of “Where to Give and Get Help,” including links to relief organizations, ad hoc groups, resources for businesses impacted by Hurricane Sandy, home improvement contractors, and other helpful information.