ENVIRONMENT

Jersey beaches in great shape, but federal budget alarms shore officials

By Brenda Flanagan
Correspondent

“We’re happy to be home and I think I’ll appreciate it even more now!” Jack Mandall said.

Mandall marked Memorial Day weekend by moving back into his house, finally rebuilt four and a half years after Sandy. This part of Long Branch is prone to flooding.

“If this happens again we’re looking at billions of dollars to remediate again, so clearly something needs to be done,” said Mandall.

His story serves as a warning as New Jersey kicks off its shore summer season this Memorial Day weekend.

“New Jersey beaches are going to be open. They’re going to be beautiful. They’re in great shape, water quality is excellent. Last year, ocean beaches were open 99.9 percent of the time,” said NJ Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin.

The state DEP tests ocean water at 216 beaches and flies along the coast six times a week. New Jersey has partnered with the federal government on 11 shore resiliency projects since Sandy. This Sunday work begins at Ortley Beach, the most vulnerable shore town, the DEP says.

“Dredges are arriving on Sunday. The pipes are already there and they’re going to start pumping sand on. Any storm we have, any nor’easter we have, clearly those homes are in danger,” Martin said.

“The reality is that sea levels are rising, the data shows that. They will continue to rise. Our beaches are relatively well-protected because we’ve paid a lot of attention to them through the projects that the commissioner mentioned,” said Coastal Processes Specialist for NJ Sea Grant Consortium John Miller.

But, most of these projects rely totally on federal dollars and the Trump administration’s proposed budget has alarmed many shore officials.

“It’s both more expensive and more dangerous. Again, it’s the opposite of what we need in New Jersey,” said Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty.

The mayor of Belmar, where beaches were replenished in 2013, expressed deep concerns about renewed erosion along his town’s shoreline and proposed budget cuts and rate hikes.

“Biggest concern for us is the massive proposed increases in flood insurance premiums coupled with the fact that there’s no real money for hazard mitigation to keep the Atlantic Ocean at bay. But, the reality is, it’s not as strong and it’s not as good a defense against storm surges as it was back in 2013,” he said.

Environmental advocates, meanwhile, also expressed concern about long-term climate change, which they fear program cuts will only compound.

“It’s eliminating the EPA water monitoring program for the coast, which really helps identify pollution targets and spills. They’re cutting by more than 70 percent the money that comes out for resiliency. So that would be like replanting dunes with grasses and projects to help with sea level rise and climate change and that’s being cut dramatically,” said Director of the NJ Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel.

The state’s still struggling with problems like storm water control, and runoff after a rain can close beaches. Five in Monmouth County had high bacteria counts today, says Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action.

“Cutting funding for the Beach Act, which provides funding to make sure our kids aren’t swimming in sewage. These kinds of cuts are serious threats,” said Zipf.

“Right now it’s too premature to even talk about budget cuts on the federal side. They’re a long ways from getting that budget done on that,” Martin said.

Jack Mandall’s bottom line?

“We can’t afford to have anything worse than what happened with Hurricane Sandy. I’ve had my flood quota for this lifetime,” Mandall said.

Keeping the shore safe from rising tides and erosion makes economic sense — half of Jersey’s tourism dollars come from shore business. We’re talking $20 billion.

Peril and Promise is an ongoing series of reports on the human impact of, and solutions for, Climate Change. 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.