LETTER – Christie’s Hurricane Sandy Denial Tour

This week Governor Christie is traveling and promoting his post-Sandy efforts. In actuality, what he is promoting is a failure to help the victims of Sandy and to prepare New Jersey for future storm events. A recent poll states that more than half of the victims of Superstorm Sandy are still dissatisfied with recovery efforts. The Christie Administration has done nothing to curb overdevelopment and sprawl that make residents vulnerable to flooding and storm surges. They have also failed to address climate change that makes storms more severe. Instead of moving people away from flood zones, the Administration has proposed to weaken rules to protect us from flooding. Now thousands of residents live in low lying and flood prone areas, putting communities at risk during the next storm.

“Today, as part of his week-long denial tour, Governor Christie is touting our rebuilding the coasts resiliently. This is far from the truth as he has actually weakened policies to protect us from future storm events and making us more vulnerable. Another Sandy event is 17 times more likely to happen again. Five years later, more than half the victims say they are dissatisfied with recovery efforts and thousands are still out of their homes. This would be him taking a victory tour for his failed policies to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. The Christie Administration failed to address climate change and sea level rise. They’ve instead roll backed and eliminated protections for flooding, they’ve taken the side of developers and special interest instead of protecting our coast,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “When it comes to dealing with climate change and flooding, the Christie Administration has weakened protections and put people at risk. Christie is like the Captain of the Titanic taking a victory lap of the ship before it sinks.”

Instead of fighting climate change, the Christie Administration is making it worse. The Governor Closed the Office of Climate Change, ended DEP’s Coastal Program for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation, and failed to use updated flood maps based on sea level rise. He rolled back the revised Energy Master Plan (EMP) to cut energy efficiency and renewable energy (30% to 22.5%) goals for New Jersey. Instead it calls for more fossil fuels and supports expanding natural gas infrastructure that supports fracking. The administration significantly subsidized gas fire power plants, while rolling back goals for solar and wind. He removed New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), costing our state $1.25 million in revenue and more than 1,800 jobs.

“Christie claims that he has made us more resilient when it’s actually the opposite. The Governor has made us more vulnerable to future super-storms like Sandy. The Christie Administration closed the Office of Climate Adaptation and Mitigation, an award-winning office that worked on climate change and adaptation in areas like the Delaware Bayshore and Tuckerton. He won’t let the DEP use sea level rise projections or even mention the term. He has prevented the state from using up-to-date science when planning and developing, assuring it will wash out to sea in the next storm. The Administration does not have a buy-out system to get people out of harm’s way. There are more people living in flood-zones but less and less protections for them. Beaches are becoming submerged every time there is a high tide and fish who end up living in storm drains. We’re losing a football field length a year of marshes along the Delaware Bayshore. Barnegat Bay and Mystic Island are being over-developed,” said Jeff Tittel. “When the Giants play the Dolphins in the future, they may end up being real dolphins.”

The Administration’s rollbacks on the Flood Hazard Rules include removing important protects for headwaters, increasing permit by rules, and letting a permit by certification process increase development in flood-prone areas. By removing critical headwater protections, it will essentially loosen water and habitat protections and will be detrimental to New Jersey. Governor Christie has weakened storm water rules as well which would require recharging and detention of stormwater as well as buffers. Most of the stormwater control systems we have are broken or do not work, contributing to flooding and pollution. Instead of improving these systems the Governor has vetoed legislation to finance detention basin retrofits.

“Since eating a donut on Dave Letterman, he has failed to help New Jersey become more resilient. His Administration has rolled back the policies and programs to protect us from flooding. His Flood Hazard Rules are a hazard for New Jersey. The purpose of the original rules was to try to encourage development in urban areas where there were already existing sewers in place. However, these new rules allow for building along piers along the Hudson River and flood prone V-Zones. These rules also remove important stream buffers and promote development. On those points alone, if you are allowing more fill and building in hazard areas it will cause flooding. The rules will not only lead to more flooding in coastal areas, which will wash away in the next storm,” said Tittel. “The only thing resilient about Governor Christie is his self-promotion, as well as his denial of climate change.”

Under the Christie Administration, the DEP adopted Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA) rules, which allow for development without consideration of sea level rise or climate change and put more people to in harm’s way. CAFRA designated centers call for high intensity growth in low lying areas that are vulnerable to storm surges like the Lacey Town Center, Tuckerton, Lakewood, and Manchester.  Along the coast we have urban centers that allow for higher densities than in Manhattan Island and accelerate development in these flood prone areas.

“This administration has rolled back 20 years of work on protecting people from flooding. CAFRA only promotes development and makes us more vulnerable to storm surges. The DEP must change the impervious cover limits in CARFA and remove environmentally sensitive areas from growth areas. Even worse, we have not been re-building after Sandy in the right way. We have not elevated homes at the right levels or basing our flood maps on science. NOAA and Rutgers have released flood maps based on Sandy data and future sea level rise, but we haven’t used them. We are also missing a buy-out plan for the shore,” said Jeff Tittel.  “Under current coastal regulations the population of flood prone areas could grow by 20% in the next 20 years adding another half a million people.  We have built giant condominium complexes in Long Branch, Asbury Park, and Atlantic City.  Many of these structures sit in the most vulnerable places for storm surges and winds from hurricanes. If we do not come up with a better way to manage development at the shore, there may not be any shore for future generations.”

During Hurricane Joaquin, the Jersey Shore’s failed dune system showed the Christie Administration has done little to protect us from the next storm. In the Long Beach Island section of Holgate, much of the newly finished beach access ramp and dune system built by the Army Corps of Engineers was buried and destroyed. This is just one example of the multitude of problems with our dune systems and coastal zone planning. Dunes are not going to solve all our problems, but dunes that are designed properly are a step in the right direction. In some places, the DEP did not even require dunes in their beach replenishment projects. Without requiring dunes, we are wasting money, but we need to do it as part of a comprehensive approach. Restoring natural features like stream buffers, regional storm water planning, and developing new flood storage areas will prevent further development in flood pone areas.

“Every time we get another storm off the coast, the sand washes out to sea, making a perpetual work project for the Army Corps but not protecting our coasts. In order to deal with storms there needs to be an overall comprehensive approach including the need to elevate structures and move them back from the water’s edge. The Army Corps and DEP must restore our natural dune systems correctly and reduce our impact on climate change, unless all this time and money will be wasted. Just pumping sand on the beach is a waste of money and hurts the environment putting people in harm’s way. The DEP has denied the science of climate change, without addressing sea level rise or the increase in frequency of storm surges. By looking the other way, they have just allowed more development and loopholes in coastal areas while wasting tax payer money,” said Jeff Tittel.

  

Instead of re-building to protect our coast, the Administration has rolled back programs that will cause even more devastation. The coastal areas of New Jersey are the fastest growing parts of our state and have seen exponential population increases. Since the Water Quality Management Planning (WQMP) rules have been weakened it has allowed 16,000 environmentally sensitive acres in Ocean County for sewer service, adding close to 500,000 people to an already over-populated coastal county. The DEP’s new Freshwater Wetlands Rules would open our wetlands to development and increase water pollution in our environment as well as flooding. They have even now proposed a new WQMP rule that increases development in the Pinelands and Highlands.

“Hurricane Sandy was supposed to be a 1 in 100-year storm, but now it is predicted major storms will increase 1 in every 25 years because of sea level rise. Our coast will see an increase in sea level rise by 1 ft. by 2050, but really that’s 1-3 ft. with ebb and flow. Meanwhile Governor Christie denies climate change is a crisis while preventing us from meeting future pollution reduction goals, closing the Office of Climate Change and removing us from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Are we stronger than the next storm? We may not be because of Christie’s failed policies,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The Administration has headed us toward a perfect storm of overdevelopment, storm surges, and flooding creating a recipe for disaster along our coast.  As the population of coastal communities keeps growing, the potential for disaster will be greater. The next time he’s sitting on the beach when the rest of the Government is closed, he could end up underwater.”

Jamie Zaccaria