ENVIRONMENT

Former DEP Official Proposes Long Term Plan to Move Residents Off Barrier Islands

Since superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on many Jersey Shore communities, there’s been an outcry form flooded residents and lawmakers to rebuild. But where and how much should be rebuilt is a question NJ Today Senior Correspondent DesirĂ©e Taylor posed to former DEP official Barry Chalofsky, now a land use planning consultant.

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Sandy, Chalofsky said, served as a warning to New Jerseyans that climate change is here and that sea levels are rising, ultimately taking over big portions of land that people are currently living on. The approach to dealing with this new reality, said Chalofsky, should be twofold: a short-term solution that preserves the economic vitality of the shore and long-term vision that recognizes that the shore as we know it today will not be same over the next 100 years.

“If we’re going to have that tourism economy continue over the long term, we need to really think about moving the shore inward,” said Chalofsky. “We need to think about — can we build a structure, can we build a plan so that we can continue the commercial development, continue the natural dunes but move people out of harm’s way?”

In the next 40 years, Chalofsky suggests moving residents off the barrier islands, which suffered some of the worst devastation from Sandy. His proposal would involve “host communities to consolidate municipalities and put together a plan where the shore can be a self-sustaining economic engine without having to worry about sea level rise.”

So far, Chalofsky says the feedback to his ideas have largely been positive, citing a recent interview that former Gov. Christie Whitman gave to NJ Today in which spoke of climate change as major consideration in New Jersey’s rebuilding efforts.

Chalofsky wants to stress, however, that what he is proposing is intended take place gradually over a long period of time. But whether New Jersey and the rest of the country can adjust to climate change is the the most important question, he says.

“Can we as a nation, can we as a state make the critical decisions that have to be made because, truthfully, we’re gonna have another storm and then we’re going to have another storm after that and ultimately the dollars that we’re hoping to get out of Washington that we haven’t seen yet will stop flowing because these storms are not only going to occur in New Jersey they’re going to occur throughout all of coastal United States they’re going to occur throughout the world.”

In addition to the Shore communities, Hoboken and Jersey City also suffered significant hurricane damage. Chalofsky says to expect more flooding in the years to come and that buildings will have to be rebuilt above sea level. But that may not be enough.

“We’re still going to require changes in urban areas [like] New York City, the Jersey Gold Coast. The difference between Hurricane Sandy and climate change and something like earthquakes is this is an inevitable process that’s going to occur.”