ATLANTIC STRONG: The nj Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has just adopted the new Coastal Area rules. These rules open up our coasts for more development without the consideration of sea level rise, putting more people in harm’s way. There is no program to do resiliency or restore natural systems. Instead of looking to strengthen coastal protections and encourage more regional planning we end up with more loopholes and waivers, weakening coastal protections instead of strengthening them.

“These new coastal rules are shameful. The DEP, instead of working to protect our coast, has opened up our coast for more development. These rules create new loopholes that are going to put more people and property in harm’s way. The DEP has sided with development interests instead of protecting the people of New Jersey,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “These new rules are even worse because they do not even mention, let alone look at, sea level rise or climate change. 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.”

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.

“Instead of learning the lessons of Hurricane Sandy, these rules are a disaster waiting to happen. These rules will allow for more intense development on piers, marinas, more commercial development behind sea walls, all of which will mean more damage to property.  All this new development is being done in the wrong places means the tax payers of New Jersey will be spending more to fix roads, water and sewer lines, electrical infrastructure, and helping people to rebuild in areas they should not have been allowed to build in in the first place.  These rules not only hurt the environment and people but will cost tax payers more money.  These rules actually add more loopholes, waivers, and roll backs of protections,”said Jeff Tittel. “This rule is not about more predictability, transparency, or eliminating red tape; it is about eliminating protections for our coast, allowing more sprawl and overdevelopment, and putting more people and property in harm’s way.”

These CAFRA changes included the DEP is using a definition of “nonporous cover” including lawns, crushed stone, compacted seashells and others as porous.  We know from the studies that have been done that those are actually compacted soils and are not porous.  When you analyze vacant land and the non-porous cover densities allowed under CAFRA, just in the CAFRA zone in Ocean County you could add 400,000 people.  In Cape May County you could double the year round population.

“More than 20,000 came out against these rules; scientists, environmentalists, engineers, and floodplain managers. The DEP did not listen to the overwhelming public outcry against these rules. Instead, the DEP took the side of developers and special interests over protecting our coasts,” said Jeff Tittel.

They use the 2001 State Plan which is old and outdated.  It does not include threatened and endangered species, C1 streams and buffers, up to date flood mapping, no information on sea level rise and storm surges.  It allows for extremely high density development in some of the most vulnerable high hazard areas of New Jersey.  In urban areas it is 90% non-porous cover, in regional centers its 80%, planning area 1 is 70% (20 units plus per acre), medium density planning area 3 in 40% (10-12 units per acre), and coastal sewer service areas are 30% (about 8-10 units per acre).

“Instead of fixing the broken CAFRA system we are even worse than the old rules because there is enough loopholes in them to drive a bulldozer through.  These rules allow for more high density development in environmentally sensitive area, we are putting more people and property in high hazard areas and we will be paving over our environmentally sensitive coastal areas.  This is going to increase flooding, water pollution, and actually hurt water quality in our bays and beaches,”said Jeff Tittel.  “All the pollution from sprawl and overdevelopment will result in more beach closings and chase away tourists, hurting our tourism economy.”

Under these rules they have not made any changes 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 Mystic Island in Ocean County, Tuckerton, Eagleswood, and Mantoloking are all coastal growth centers.  Other centers include: In Cumberland County some of the areas that have seen some of the highest levels of sea level rise and coastal erosion like Fortesque, Sea Breeze, and Gandy’s Beach; in Atlantic County Port Republic; in Cape May County, Villas, Rio Grande, Sea Isle City, South Dennis, in Monmouth County Belmar, Union Beach, Keansburg.  In many places we are promoting growth and high density development in communities that are looking for buyouts.

“Under CAFRA the amount of development that is allowed is based on planning areas and centers.  That mapping allows the intensity of development based on the amount of impervious cover.  What we see in the mapping 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 mapping is based on political science, not real science,” said Jeff Tittel.

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.

“New Jersey is 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.  These rules do not even mention sea level rise or climate change, let alone call for adapting or mitigating for those impacts. These rules allow for more people and property in these dangerous areas,” said Jeff Tittel.

There is nothing in here to lessen development impacts in environmentally sensitive areas, areas vulnerable to sea level rise, or to limit impervious cover to improve water quality.  Instead of fixing CAFRA, eliminating loopholes, limiting impervious cover, and restoring and rebuilding natural systems, these rules are further rolling back standards. There is nothing in the rules about resiliency or restoring natural systems like dunes and wetlands.  There are no environmental standards for managing stormwater, to require green building codes or roofs, not to use tropical woods on boardwalks.  There is nothing about restoration or limiting impervious cover.  It is not about building better or smarter, it is about trying to rebuild the past and maybe elevate it.  The concern is that this is not going to make us more resilient for the next storm. There is a provisional permit that if you could lose funding before you get approvals you could start building.  This was from the emergency rule and was kept.

“Hurricane Sandy was a disaster that hit our coast, and these rules are another disaster for New Jersey. They will not only protect us from future storms and sea level rise, they are actually encouraging more growth in areas that were devastated.  These rules take the side of developers over the environment and even sound science,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The Governor has put his national political agenda over protecting our coast. By denying sea level rise and climate change, he is denying New Jersey’s ability to grow in a resilient and sustainable manner along our coasts. What makes these rules shameful is that we have missed an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past. Future generations will not only be put at risk but will be outraged over our failure to protect them or our coasts from future storms .These rules do nothing to protect us; they make things worse by putting more people in harm’s way. These rules are a hazard to New Jersey and we will look to challenge them in court.”