Retreating from areas that consistently flood, improving sewer systems so they are less prone to overflowing and creating better wastewater management systems are just a few steps that have to be taken to make the Jersey Shore's post-Sandy rebuilding process more environmentally safe, said environmentalists on Thursday.
Officials from leading New Jersey environmental organizations discussed the importance of taking these measures and many others as part of a teleconference on Thursday when they laid out what the state's guiding principles should be as it moves through recovery and rebuilding.
American Littoral Society’s Tim Dillingham said, “These principles if followed by state, local and private decision makers will result in a restored coastal environment and more resilient communities.”
David Pringle of the NJ Environmental Federation, said, “Those that don’t learn from the past are damned to repeat it. We need to do that here, learn from Sandy, improve on the previous flawed standards and lax building restrictions and more, to better protect people, property, and the environment from extreme weather and climate disruption. Given the human suffering, destruction of natural and economic resources, and cost to taxpayers from Sandy, we can’t afford not to."
Following principles designed for more environmentally-sound coastal restoration is necessary because climate change and rising sea levels are a reality, making more significant weather events more likely to happen more frequently, said Dr. Emile DeVito, Manager of Science and Stewardship, NJ Conservation Foundation.
"And it won't take a Sandy to cause flooding," he added. "We won't need a big storm because the sea level will be higher.
“Sea level rise is accelerating, at least 4½ feet higher by 2100," DeVito said. "A warmer ocean is increasing the frequency of powerful storms. We must embrace these facts to sustain the built and natural resources of our coastline and floodplains. A regional, science-based, strategic retreat in the highest risk areas, with development of new parks and wetlands, must be coupled with defense of crucial re-built environments. Our responses to Sandy and Irene must be compatible with the long-term view of the ocean and rivers of the 22nd century."
Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, also noted that while Sandy caused widespread destruction on land, it also flushed garbage, chemicals and pollutants into the region's back bays.
“Super-storm Sandy not only devastated coastal communities, it was a public health and environmental disaster," Zipf said. "We've launched programs to clean up what washed up onto beaches. Clean ocean waters, back-bays, and beaches draw people to the shore and are the anchor of our communities.
“We must work to ensure that our region is resilient, clean and healthy for decades to come. Restoration of the coastal ecosystem and our coastal culture are possible if we follow these principles and engage the local community to build better, smarter, greener and for the future.”
The Environmental Principles Needed in Rebuilding and Future Coastal Development
“New Jersey: Better, Smarter; Guiding Principles to Recover, Rebuild, and Protect from Extreme Weather” is intended to guide state-wide response to this Super-Storm, the most recent storm to expose weaknesses, mistakes and vulnerabilities in planning, regulation, and financial policies, that will define our economic and environmental future for generations," says a statement from the coalition of environmental groups.
The coalition supporting the principles are: American Littoral Society; Alliance for a Living Ocean; Assn. of NJ Environmental Commissions; Clean Ocean Action; Environment New Jersey; Hackensack Riverkeeper; New Jersey Audubon; New Jersey Conservation Foundation; New Jersey Environmental Federation; New Jersey Environmental Lobby; New Jersey League of Conservation Voters; New Jersey Sierra Club; NY/NJ Baykeeper; Pinelands Preservation Alliance; Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association and Surfers' Environmental Alliance.
Leadership: The State has the responsibility, obligation and power to protect life and property. Every community (human and ecological) is different, but every community operates as a part of a whole; the State must use its power – of regulation and finances – to make our people safe, communities resilient, and environment protected.
Knowledge The State must ensure that the recovery process engages in a rigorous and transparent assessment and understanding of risks and vulnerabilities that led to our Hurricane-devastated coastline and which leaves us vulnerable to future disaster. Meaningful, informed, and transparent public participation is vital for this assessment. For this process to work, both the public and our elected decision-makers must have access to the most accurate data, up-to-date science, and informed experts.
Resiliency: Public and private actions within the recovery must lead to resilient communities; communities which, through restoration of the natural coastal environment and rebuilding informed by observed and future risks, take steps to minimize risks from all hazards, including storms and sea level rise. The State, as well as local governments, must assess the impact of the storm and, when rebuilding, must take into account storm hazard history and reasonably foreseeable future change.
Public Health: Recovery actions must address the immediate need for public health protection from water and air degradation. Raw sewage, chemical and oil spills, hazardous materials and mold, and debris removal, and untreated effluent and emissions have created a significant public health emergency state-wide. Clean-up and remediation, especially in vulnerable communities, must be accompanied by clear, and easily-accessible communication of health risks and safety resources. The immediate notification of the public of threats to public health and welfare must become the norm, state-wide.
Improvement: Recovery and rebuilding provides an opportunity to fix chronic development-related problems such as inadequate stormwater management, substandard sewage infrastructure and treatment, degraded natural habitats, and publicly inaccessible waterfronts. Improvements must be to the infrastructure which has held back the state’s overall environmental quality and the economies dependent thereupon.
Funding: Funds must be directed to restoring, enhancing and protecting the environment. “Green” requirements will lead to greater resiliency and more steadfast economic and environmental recovery. When disbursing public funds, creating incentives for private funds, or constructing development-inducing infrastructure, decision-makers should:
- Promote natural resource dependent economies;
- Require softening the shorelines, and the restoration of wetlands, oyster reefs, floodplains, stream corridors, and other habitat and barrier islands;
- Incorporate green infrastructure and low impact development approaches throughout the State;
- Be public in nature, conditioned and coordinated for the public’s benefit; and
- Enhance public access under the principles of the Public Trust Doctrine.
Local Support: Require community-based climate change planning strategies based on outreach to local councils, civic organizations, and grass roots organizations to help communities plan for emergencies and to build support for infrastructure changes.
A New Normal: Barrier beaches, dune systems and stream corridors are, by their nature, constantly changing. Such fluctuations should be taken into account when investment decisions are made for rebuilding businesses, homes, and infrastructure. Strategic retreat from high storm-surge and flooding risk areas, as well as conversion of these vulnerable areas to parkland through public acquisition, should be considered state-wide.
Planning: State and regional collaboration and coordination is necessary to make recovery and resiliency cost-effective and efficient; rebuilding and restoring the State must be done according to well-balanced plans and programs.
Climate Change: Smart design, green infrastructure, and promotion of ecosystem services will make communities more resilient, protecting people, economies and the environment; those same ideals can and should be used to reduce the State’s greenhouse gas pollution and carbon footprint as the exacerbation of climate change will lead to short- and long-term economic losses, statewide vulnerability, and less-resilient communities.
Renewable energy, coupled with water and energy conservation and efficiency, will make resiliency affordable and achievable, as well as mitigate future risks.
Jeff Tittel, director of New Jersey Sierra Club, said, “As we continue to understand the devastation and impacts of Hurricane Sandy we are going to need to change things in New Jersey.
"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 tough 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."
For more information about how the increased production of greenhouse gases is accelerating climate change and rising sea levels, read a state report http://www.nj.gov/dep/cmp/docs/ccvap-pilot-final.pdf and a Princeton University report http://www.princeton.edu/step/people/faculty/michael-oppenheimer/recent-publications/Future-Sea-Level-Rise-and-the-New-Jersey-Coast-Assessing-Potential-Impacts-and-Opportunities.pdf