Putting our Coast at Risk

Despite the devastation we’ve seen from Hurricane Sandy, the New Jersey DEP has adopted new Coastal Area CAFRA rules that make us more vulnerable to the next storm. These rules will end up putting more people in harm’s way in the future by allowing for more development on the coast. Instead of looking to strengthen coastal protections and deal with climate change and sea level rise, these rules actually encourage more development in the wrong places. We end up with more loopholes and waivers which weaken coastal protections.

These regulations determine what type and intensity of development will occur along our coast. Sierra Club has serious concerns with the changes which will add more loopholes and waivers and weakening coastal protections. The rules do not strengthen protections, encourage more regional planning, address climate change or sea level rise, and they do not include programs for adaptation or mitigation of sea level rise, resiliency, or natural systems restoration. According to a Rutgers study, 9% of our coasts could disappear because of sea level rise and we’re already seeing those impacts.

There were over 20,000 comments against the Rules that the DEP has ignored. The DEP, instead of working to protect our coast, has opened up our coast for more development in some of the most vulnerable high hazard areas of New Jersey. These rules do not include threatened and endangered species, C1 streams and buffers, current flood mapping, or information on sea level rise and storm surges. The DEP has sided with development interests instead of protecting the people of New Jersey.

New Jersey has not only seen the devastation from Hurricane Sandy, but we are experiencing storm surges and sea level rise at an alarming rate.  Instead of moving New Jersey forward to mitigate for those climate impacts, we are instead opening our coast up for more high density and intense development in these hazardous areas. 

Many of the changes made to the Coastal Areas Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) will actually put people and property in harm’s way.  Most troubling is the exclusion of nonporous groundcovers such as lawns, crushed stone, compacted seashells as porous.  We know from the studies that have been done that those are actually compacted soils and are not porous. 

The rules depend on old and outdated mapping that do not include the latest information on threatened and endangered species, high quality streams and buffers, flooding or climate impacts. Under these regulations extremely high density development can move forward in some of the most vulnerable high hazard areas of New Jersey.  What we see in the mapping is that many of the areas that were under water during Sandy, are now slated for more development and growth.  There have been no changes in policies and planning in decades, even after all that has happened to our state and our coast.

The DEP has not made any changes to the regulations based on the impacts from Hurricane Sandy, sea level rise, or storm surges, and now they are proposing to have high density developments in some of the most high hazard areas of the state.  For example Tuckerton, Mantoloking, Port Republic, Sea Bright, Union Beach, Keansburg are all coastal growth centers. 

There is no analysis for drinking water and sewer capacity, nor looking at the impact of non-point source pollution.  The DEP is not looking at climate change or sea level rise.  There is no hazard planning.  The plan is not based on science, but rather political science.  They have not improved their policies based on Hurricane Sandy or pollution in Barnegat Bay. Under this plan the Barnegat Bay watershed could be 40% non-porous cover.  When watershed goes over 30% there are irreparably harmed and cannot be restored.

The rules would allow Ocean County to add 400,000 people in the coastal zone.  In Cape May County you could double the year round population. Hurricane Sandy was a disaster that hit our coast, and these rules are a disaster.  They will not protect us from future storms and sea level rise.  They actually encourage more growth in areas that were devastated.  These rules take the side of developers over the environment and even sound science.

Because of the Governor’s national political agenda, where he won’t do anything about climate change, these rules are a hazard to our coasts and the people of New Jersey. These rules are now in place and they’re a complete sell-out. Future generations will be put at risk and outraged over our failure to protect them or our coasts from future storms. These rules are a hazard to New Jersey and we will look to challenge them in court.

 

Jeff Tittel,
Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club