Tomorrow Governor Christie will deliver the State of the State speech. The Governor’s message will be especially important in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Thousands of people across the state are still dealing with the impacts of this tragedy. In his address the Governor should outline his policies for rebuilding our coast and creating a stable funding source for open space programs. This must include keeping environmental standards in place, adaptation and hazard planning, regional planning, green building codes, taking steps to prevent future flooding. We need the Governor to present a plan that will protect families from the impacts of climate disruption and sea level rise. In New Jersey we deserve strong action by Governor Christie to help reduce the likelihood and severity of future disasters.
This is one of the most important State of the State addresses any Governor can give after the destruction and damage from Hurricane Sandy. We all need to come together and work to not only rebuild our state but move our state forward. This State of the State address should unify us and call for moving the state forward in better direction. We need to rebuild our coast but we need to do it better and smarter. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past, otherwise we will be wasting money, hurting the environment and putting people in harm’s way.
In the State of the State the Governor must address how New Jersey will prepare for climate disruption. A recent study found that by 2050 the sea level at Sandy Hook could rise by 21 to 35 inches, meaning water could move up to three feet inland. A study by Rutgers University four years ago found that given the storm surges as a result of climate change, 9% of New Jersey’s land area could be under water. The areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy are some of the very areas identified in the Rutgers report. We need to implement hazard and adaptation planning to move people and property out of harm’s way as we rebuild. Critical infrastructure for the state such as Newark Airport, nuclear power plants, electrical generation plants, sewer plants, chemical plants, and transportation hubs are all prone to flooding and storm surges and need to be better protected.
We need to look at regional planning and establishing a Coastal Commission or Council that will coordinate efforts to rebuild along the shore and to ensure we protect vital infrastructure, do proper planning and zoning, and develop strong 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. A Coastal Commission would better coordinating redevelopment, saving taxpayer money by not being redundant when it comes to infrastructure. We can fix environmental problems by taking a regional approach to stormwater, transportation, beach access, and other types of planning. Oversight will help limit waste, fraud, and abuse
By having a Coastal Commission we will end up saving taxpayers money, we can build better and smarter, and help prevent the pay-to-play culture from wasting tax payer money during rebuilding efforts. Regional planning will ensure we can have a shore for future generations. Without it we are condemned to the mistakes of the past.
The Governor must address better planning and updating building codes. We need to implement green building codes and standards that require structures to stand up better to higher winds and flooding. We need to build further back from flood prone areas and the dunes and also make sure we elevate not only houses but key infrastructure. We need to enhance dunes and natural systems. When we rebuild homes and businesses we need to make them more energy efficient. We also need to invest in renewable energy and distributive generation. We should not just be adapting to climate change but working to prevent it as well.
As we move forward with rebuilding the Governor must commit to not waiving environmental standards. We should not be weakening regulations, but rather strengthening them to better protect people and property. DEP Commissioner Bob Martin has signed an Administrative Consent Order waiving compliance with CAFRA, Flood Hazard Area, and wetlands protections for infrastructure rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy. Under the ACO infrastructure is being rebuilt again in vulnerable places. The DEP waiver rule would also allow reconstruction activities to evade environmental standards. The ACO and waiving environmental standards discourages planning that would prevent the damage from occurring again by elevating or moving infrastructure to a safer place.
One of the lessons of Hurricane Sandy is weakening environmental standards and waiving protections will end up causing more damage, hurting the economy and environment. Places where we actually had stronger protections in place fared much better during the storm.
The Governor also needs to outline what will be done to prevent future flooding. Rolling back Highlands protections will only make downstream flooding worse. We need to implement the latest FEMA flood maps now and the upcoming versions that will include data from Hurricane Sandy flooding to better protect families and businesses. New Jersey needs to commit to stopping the promotion of development in flood prone and wetland areas, which makes the consequences of weather events more extreme and places more people in harm’s way.
During the State of the State the Governor must announce his plans for a stable source of funding for our open space programs, which have no future funding in place. The Green Acres and Blue Acres programs need a stable source of funding so that land acquisitions can move forward and move families out of harm’s way. This funding will allow us to purchase many of the sites that see continual flooding and storm surges. We need funding to preserve lands to create more dunes and areas for flood water storage. The best way to establish a stable source of open space funding would be a water user fee.
Some of his policies in the past made impacts from the storm worse such as weakening protections, pulling out of RGGI, and implementing the DEP Waiver Rule. Now the Governor has an important opportunity to correct past actions and make the state more vibrant and resilient.
The Governor has been a strong leader dealing with the hurricane and its aftermath. Leadership also means the ability to bring people together to move the state forward. Sometimes we have to make tough choices because they are right, not because they are politically expedient. The Governor has a great opportunity to ensure that as we rebuild the coast we do it better and smarter and that we have a coast for future generations.