ENVIRONMENT

Experts urge state to plan for future effects of climate change

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

The state has worked hard to put the Jersey Shore back in shape after the multi-billion dollar disaster called Superstorm Sandy. But climate scientists, city planners, and environmentalists are concerned the coast is just as vulnerable as it was five years ago to rising sea levels and increasingly powerful storms.

Just halfway into hurricane season, the destruction caused by Harvey, Irma and Maria are serving as a warning. New Jersey is approaching the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, and the chance of another, more powerful storm hitting the eastern seaboard is growing more likely.

“I grew up on the shore. I watched the changes occur. I know most of the policies that we have today are totally obsolete for the conditions we’re living under today,” said Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora.

Conditions like rising sea levels and a warming climate. Spodofora told this climate change conference in Trenton that his town lost more than 85 percent of waterfront properties during Sandy, not to mention millions in tax ratables.

“Dealing with Superstorm Sandy was a nightmare for us,” said Spodofora.

But panelists at New Jersey Future’s forum say the state’s failed to lead a coordinated response on climate preparedness, leaving coastal communities just as vulnerable as they were five years ago.

“I think we need somebody who looks at the shore as a whole, helps to bring the towns together and gives some assistance in meeting their goals, but also acts as a steward to tackle this question of climate change,” said American Littoral Society Executive Director Tim Dillingham.

When Sandy struck, part of the problem was none of the towns hit by the storm were equipped to respond to the damage. That’s why these experts say any future planning must come from a regional level.

“The state needs to provide municipalities with assistance and guidance for how they evaluate risk, how they begin to develop strategies that are effectively addressing it. Without the state’s guidance, which has been the case for the last five years, municipalities have been on their own and they really haven’t been effectively addressing these problems,” said New Jersey Future planning manager David Kutner.

For starters, they’d like to see New Jersey develop a coastwide management plan. Panelists also recommend New Jersey rejoins RGGI — the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap and trade program Christie withdrew from after taking office.

“Every time we’ve been faced with a serious challenge in this state we have adopted a regional approach. I’m referring of course to the Meadowlands Commission, I’m referring to the Pinelands Commission, I’m referring to the Highlands Commission. It is overdue,” said one of the panelists, lawyer Joe Mazariti.

“The fund is recommending that we adopt a climate action plan to address the threats to the coast from rising sea levels. The shore protection master plan, as many of you know, is 35 years old, predating decades of development, predating Superstorm Sandy, predating the latest climate revelations and predating sea level rise. We need to update it,” said Ed Lloyd, an environmental law professor at Columbia Law School.

The Regional Plan Association offered up this idea: an ongoing trust fund set up from surcharges on insurance premiums to pay for future projects. The conversation is intended to be the first of many to help prep the next administration on the state’s most pressing issues.

Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.