Hurricane Sandy forever changed what the Jersey shore will look like. Our hearts go out to all of those impacted. We must and we will rebuild. However, we need to do it better, smarter and in the right places.
When we rebuild, we must ensure it is done in a way to keep families out of harm's way and to reduce the likelihood that such a loss of lives and property could happen again in the future. It is important for our economy to rebuild the right way because these storms will keep coming. We need to put in place good planning and land-use policies that protect our families from the impacts of climate disruption and sea-level rise.
We cannot allow more growth in flood-prone areas and must limit development upstream of those areas. We need to do a better job managing stormwater and preventing combined sewer overflows. Certain areas we should buy out and let people rebuild somewhere else because their current locations are too vulnerable to flooding and storm surges. We need to stop using public money to subsidize development in the wrong places. Disaster relief must not keep using taxpayer money to rebuild the same house again and again in the wrong location.
Our open space fund is out of money so we will not be able to purchase many of these sites through the Blue Acres Program, which helps move families out of harm's way. We could have preserved lands to create more dunes and areas for floodwater storage, but now those opportunities will be lost. We need to restore natural systems like flood plains and wetlands to mitigate the impacts of these storms.
Many of the areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy are slated for more growth under the governor's State Strategic Plan and current coastal regulations, such as Lacey and Stafford townships and Toms River. In the regulated coastal zone in Ocean County, we could add 200,000 more people based on existing regulations. An additional 100,000 people could be added to Lakewood as well, more than doubling Ocean County's population.
We also need to revise our building codes so structures stand up better to higher winds and flooding. We need to build further back from flood-prone areas and the dunes and also make sure we elevate not only houses but key infrastructure. We should be promoting more green homes and energy-efficient buildings when we rebuild as well.
Maintaining the character of the communities is critical as we rebuild. This must not become an excuse to put high-rise luxury housing in areas that were once small bungalows. We hope the Jersey shore continues to be the Jersey shore.
We also need to do a better job restoring and protecting dunes along our coast. The Department of Environmental Protection needs to enforce coastal violations, especially with development in the wrong places and that encroaches on dunes. Dunes are critically important for property protection and the environment, especially during storm surges.
As a result of Hurricane Sandy, oil leaks, chromium pollution and other toxic waste from chemical plants, raw sewage, and polluted stormwater runoff entered our waterways. We need to not only limit development but we need development with less pavement and impervious cover and not allow hazardous facilities in flood-prone areas.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency has developed new maps that show how far flooding is now reaching, Gov. Chris Christie has not adopted those more protective maps. The administration has failed to upgrade FEMA mapping because it does not want to limit development in those areas. As a result, people do not know they live in flood-prone areas and do not get flood insurance, costing the taxpayers more money.
Christie weakened land-use tools within the DEP that prevent sprawl in flood-prone and wetland areas. His administration has rolled back the stormwater and flood-hazard rules, removing key protections.
Christie also has stopped progress made under previous administrations on adaptation to climate change and sea-level rise and hazard planning. Important studies on impacts to the Delaware Bay shore and protecting critical infrastructure across the state have been buried by the Christie administration. Christie even eliminated the Office of Climate Change, which played a role producing the reports.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. As we rebuild the Jersey shore we need to do it in a way that better protects life, property and environmentally sensitive areas.
Jeff Tittel is director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.