In the battle against rising ocean levels, so-called living shorelines are a less expensive — and some say better — alternative to jetties, seawalls and other man-made barriers, a natural remedy that can be especially effective in helping bayside communities deal with coastal flooding.
On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone came to Keyport along the Raritan Bay to tout legislation he’s sponsoring that would make federal grants available to communities that tap the technology, which uses oyster beds, marshlands and beach grass to serve as a buffer to absorb incoming wave energy.
“It’s very hard a lot of times for the towns to do these things on their own because you don’t have the money,” said Pallone. “You’re always worried about the taxpayer. And so the whole idea here is to give grants to the towns to do these things.”
Conservationists see living shorelines as a critical defense for New Jersey’s coastline. In Keyport, volunteers two years ago planted beach grass to anchor dunes that were eroding away. It’s working.
“This right here is proof of what living shorelines will do for a municipality,” said Keyport Mayor Collette J. Kennedy, whose town was among the many along Raritan Bay hit hard by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
“As experienced in Sandy, the storm has a way of ripping out manmade structures,” said Dennis Fotopoulos, a member of the borough council. “This is a resilient structure that we’re building, and we’re going to add onto.”
Pallone’s Living Shorelines Act would provide $50 million in matching federal funds for local governments and conservation groups, with priority going to towns where federal disasters like Superstorm Sandy were declared within the past decade.
New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection is monitoring almost 50 living shoreline projects, either completed or under construction.
“Our hope is that living shorelines gain momentum in New Jersey so they become a business-as-usual technique for protecting communities from the erosional effects of flooding and storms, while also providing habitat for fish and wildlife,” said Bill Schadel, coastal projects manager for the Nature Conservancy in NJ.
Keyport officials believe Raritan Bay’s coastline remains vulnerable, but that the communities there have been politically invisible relative to Jersey Shore communities. After Sandy, Kennedy said, blue-collar bayside towns like Union Beach didn’t immediately get the aid or attention from the Christie administration and Washington that they deserved.
“That’s why the only images you saw for the first two weeks were the roller coasters in the water, and it was the Jersey Shore and the boardwalk, for tourism, that got rebuilt first,” Kennedy said. “And it wasn’t until the efforts of people on the Bayshore going down continuously to bring certain members of the staff, at that point, up here to show them the damage. And we still have homeowners and towns around us that are still fighting the battles of that.”
“People along the Bayshore and in Keyport, they live here, this is their front yard,” said Greg Remaud of NY/NJ Baykeeper. “People boat, they kayak, they fish, it’s our homes … but one thing that happens, once you turn the corner on Sandy Hook, funding slows down a little bit.”
Rutgers scientists say sea levels since 1900 have risen faster here in New Jersey than around the globe: 1.4 feet, compared to eight inches, aided by subsidence of ground levels.
In Keyport, officials are hoping to build a living, natural buffer to help guard its shoreline, citing studies that show 15 feet of marsh can absorb half of the energy of an incoming wave.
The idea is to build on the existing project to encompass more of the dunes and the places identified as needing living shoreline help.
But they need financial help. “Yeah,” we need money!” said Council President Victoria Pacheco.
Pallone says there’s a companion bill in the Senate, and lawmakers in both houses hope to get the measures passed this fall. The bill would require the approval of President Trump.