Policies for rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy need to consider climate change and rethink existing development methods if similar destruction is to be prevented in the future, a group of environmentalists and policy leaders warned Thursday.
The group’s recommendations were included in a plan — subtitled “guiding principles to recover, rebuild and protect from extreme weather” — that contains a broad set of concepts the authors say should be used during the recovery from the storm that caused nearly $30 billion in damage in New Jersey alone.
“We have had plans that either ignored common sense or didn’t plan at all,” Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, said on a conference call Thursday. “We need to work toward building resilient communities, knowing that we will see storms like this again.”
Building better and smarter, Dillingham said, has to be the guiding principle “for all the decisions going to be made.”
The groups have signed a letter to Congress asking that recovery money and rebuilding grants be given on the condition that the work reduce future risk from storm damage and encourage an adaptation to a changing climate.
“If we continue to settle for the status quo of lax building restrictions and make no demands for truly scientific engineering of recovery, rebuilding and restoration projects, we will be ensuring that our communities will be endangered — needlessly — in the next storm or the next flood,” the letter stated.
Michael Drewniak, spokesman for the Governor’s Office, said he had not seen the specific policy suggestions but said, “We appreciate constructive input and are considering it from all manner of stakeholders.” Drewniak said the governor’s newly formed Office of Recovery and Rebuilding is working with a disaster recovery consulant to formulate rebuilding policies and that multiple other stakeholders, including local and county officials, business and real estate analysts, and other experts are being consulted.
The recommendations in the environmentalists’ plan, which was compiled and approved by more than 15 environmental groups in New Jersey, include asking the state to exercise stronger powers over planning and regulation, and improving public participation and education in the rebuilding process.
The plan says state and local governments need to include past storm history and “reasonably foreseeable future change” as part of the rebuilding effort. Part of that future change should look at “strategic retreat” from areas that have a high storm surge or flooding risk, according to the plan.
One of the key points in rebuilding, Dillingham said, is that environmental preservation, such as restoring wetlands, will play a key role in protecting property and the coastline as well as improving storm resiliency.
The groups supporting the guidelines include the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, the American Littoral Society, New Jersey Audubon, New Jersey Sierra Club, Clean Ocean Action and the Surfer’s Environmental Alliance.
“We have to understand the full impacts of Sandy and what changes we need to make to prevent this type of devastation in the future. We need to look at what we have done in the past, what worked and what needs to be fixed,”New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said in a news release. “We also need to hold those accountable for actions that may have caused the storm to have a bigger impact on the people of New Jersey than it should have. More importantly, we need to put in place those programs and changes to make sure we do not get impacted again.”
New Jersey is the only state in the region that does not have a broad climate-change adaptation plan either in place or in the process of being drafted. Gov. Chris Christie dismantled the Office of Climate Change and Energy within the Department of Environmental Protection shortly after taking office in 2010.
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