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.
Governor Christie weakened land use tools within the DEP that prevent sprawl in flood prone and wetland areas including stormwater and flood hazard rules. Many areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy are growth areas under his State Strategic Plan. His administration has not adopted new FEMA mapping showing how flooding has gotten worse in New Jersey. He eliminated the DEP Office of Science and stopped progress under previous administrations on adaptation to climate change and sea level rise.
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.