LETTER – DEP Flood Rules Will Create More Flooding

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has recently proposed changes to the Flood Hazard Area Control Act Regulations. These changes include removing headwater protection, increasing permit by rules, and letting a permit by certification process increase development in flood-prone areas. They will remove critical headwater protections and allow for increased drilling and power-lines in these areas. These changes are essentially loosened water and habitat protections and will be detrimental to New Jersey.

 

“The Christie Administration is rolling back key water protections in New Jersey. The proposed changes to the Flood Hazard Rule will actually make us more vulnerable to flooding. They will increase flooding and hurt water quality. These proposed rule changes will cut back important 300 feet buffers along high quality C1 streams, which not only prevent us from flooding but promote better water quality for our drinking water. The DEP is turning 6 general permits into 15 permits by certification, which means engineers that work for developers will basically give themselves permits preventing DEP review. This is the fox designing the henhouse and certifying it’s safe. This will be done without public input or appropriate public review. By taking general permits by rule, it will limit public input and limit DEP oversight. This will also eliminate DEP oversight on projects like road widening, bridge, and culvert replacements. In a state so devastated by flooding, the DEP is heading in the wrong direction,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. 

 

This plan proposes eliminating a lot of protection for headwaters in Category 1 streams and their buffers, especially their headwaters, which is terrible because headwaters are critical for flood protection and water quality. Once you destroy these headwaters, you will see a cascading affect in water quality and flooding downstream. They’re removing protections on these C1 streams whose protections were already upheld by the court. Trout-associated waters will also see a removal in headwater protections. These critical Category 1 and trout-associated streams are the most highly-sensitive and best quality stream areas in New Jersey and we’re allowing them to be developed. We’re opening up thousands of acres of the most environmentally sensitive land in NJ, creating flooding and hurting water quality. These headwater areas are like capillaries, the streams are veins, and the rivers the arteries of our state.

 

“We’re permitting disaster by allowing so many permit by rules, 63 now, whose loopholes allow for more development in flood-prone areas. In 2007 there were only 32. These loopholes include making it easier to build high-tension power lines through rivers, allowing gas pipelines to drill under streams, opening up our forests for more logging, and allowing greenhouses to be built in flood hazard areas. There are now 63 more ways to put holes in our buffers, essentially turning our stream buffers into swiss cheese,”said Jeff Tittel.

 

Many of these proposed changes will hurt New Jersey’s environment. They allow for building up piers on the Hudson River. These changes would reduce and eliminate buffers for acidic soil. They will open more mitigation which can lead to more disturbances. New Jersey used to believe that as long as a stream system is connected, whether man-made or naturally, then it counts as a stream. Now they’ve changed the definition of connectivity which will lead to more development in flood-prone areas. They’re taking general permits and turning them into permit-by-certification without public oversight or input. This means that the DEP does not do a thorough review of the permit before giving it. There needs to be oversight to make sure that these permits won’t cause more environmental damage. These changes are weakening environmental protections across the state.

 

“They have a new category called permit by certification and there are 15 of these. These are for things like building houses and widening roads. We will have government officials giving out permits without thorough reviews. In a state with corruption and flood problems, this is a disaster waiting to happen. These rules will open lands up to flooding and logging and make it easier to destroy riparian corridors. They will set up mitigation banks that may look like they protect the environment on paper, but are really Bernie Madoff schemes that will only allow for more flowing. They’re still using 1980 maps that are 35 years out of date and not requiring updates despite the increased flooding and pavement since then. This is unacceptable and impractical. When you look at these rules, they’re really a flood of problems,” said Jeff Tittel.

 

There are other issues with these proposed changes. We’re not updating flood hazard maps as much as we should which means we cannot properly manage these areas. Allowing for exemptions and flood credits does not work either. Trading flood credits creates a localized impact and mitigates it elsewhere. They’re also lessening riparian zone buffers near bridges and culverts as well as storm water management basins. It will be easier to drill for pipes and underground utilities and increase the amount of poles for power lines in these areas. It allows for building greenhouses in flood hazard areas. They also allow for more filling of flood-hazard areas in the Highlands. These proposed changes are cutting back on stream buffers, allowing for more development, and will only make flooding worse.

 

“We should be adding protections to protect people and property, instead we are weakening them putting more people and property in harm’s way. These rules are an attack on clean water and New Jersey will be vulnerable to the next flood and future damages. These rule changes are not common sense. They are the opposite. These changes are actually a hazard to the people and properties of New Jersey,” said Jeff Tittel. “We have a flood of problems and a drought of action. On a day when so many people in New Jersey have been impacted by flooding, these rules are an embarrassment. These rules will not protect anyone; they will make flooding worse.

 

People need to come out to these hearings to oppose these rules.

 

“If these go forward the way they are, people who live along the Passaic, Ramapo, Hackensack, Raritan Rivers and other flood-prone areas will need to buy snorkels,”Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. 

 

The public comment period ends July 31, 2015. Comments may be submitted electronically at www.nj.gov/dep/rules/comments or on paper to:

Gary J. Brower, Esq.

Attn.: DEP Docket No. 05-15-04

Office of Legal Affairs

NJ Department of Environmental Protection

401 East State Street, 7th Floor

Mail Code 401-04L; P.O. Box 402

Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

 

Jamie Zaccaria

Administrative Assistant

New Jersey Sierra Club