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DEP Studies Rising Sea Levels and Defends Against Charges of Shoddy Garfield Cleanup

6-26-12

With sea levels rising, environmental officials are investigating ways to cope. New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that that DEP has a report for 2020 and is drafting one for 2050 as part of the Global Warming Response Act that looks at different aspects of warming like rising seas. Martin also discussed responses to flooding, how the state budget will impact the DEP, the Superfund site in Garfield and the DEP’s work going forward.

Martin said the DEP is investigating how the state can adapt to rising sea levels in the long term, including raising homes and changes in the population. When asked if people will have to evacuate areas along the shoreline, Martin said in the distant future that might be necessary, but not in the short term. He also said more information is necessary to make an assessment.

“What we’re doing primarily at the DEP right now is looking at a lot of the studies, a lot of the science that’s coming in — not just from the United States, but around the world — to understand the magnitude of the problem,” he explained.

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When it comes to flooding in other areas of the state, which was abundant last year after Tropical Storm Irene affected many areas, Martin said the government has laid out a 15-point plan based on the Flood Commission Report that came out from the Passaic River Basin. He explained that a short term solution is to buy out homes in flood prone areas and raise others.

“Just this year alone, we’re going to buy 540 homes. We’re also going to raise the elevation on 106 homes,” he said. “We started that.”

While Martin hasn’t seen all the details on the proposed state budget, he said Gov. Chris Christie had proposed a 9 percent increase for the DEP in the spending plan, a lot of which would come from corporate business tax increases. “I haven’t seen all the last details that came out of the Assembly, but we expect to do well,” Martin said.

Garfield Mayor Frank Calandriello recently told NJ Today that he blames the DEP for continued problems with chromium in the city. It is a Superfund site and Calandriello said the DEP didn’t do a thorough cleanup in 1983 when there was an electroplating plant spill. But Martin said the DEP has worked on the site in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency. “The DEP has done a lot of work on it in the past,” Martin said. “Not everything has been done perfectly well, but again we’ve worked very closely with the EPA on this.”

Martin said the DEP has a few major goals going forward. The first is to improve air quality, including looking at out-of-state sources. The second is restoring Barnegat Bay, which Martin said is a priority of the governor. “The governor’s laid out a 10-point plan to address Barnegat Bay because it’s a major part of tourism in the state,” he explained.

Keeping state parks open is another priority. “We have 39 great state parks. They attract 19 million visitors a year. A lot of state parks around the country in other states are closing. We’ve kept those open,” Martin said. “The governor’s committed to make sure those parks stay open and well maintained for all the families in the state of New Jersey.”