Recently, the focus of Jersey shore recovery efforts has centered on the pitched battle between a strong-willed governor and an equally determined assemblage of beachfront property owners fighting over whether to build protective dunes that would encroach upon their property and ocean views.
Notwithstanding the vivid story line, the intense absorption with this controversy may actually be doing a disservice to the public dialogue that ought to occur to decide how best to restore and protect the invaluable economic and natural resource that is the state's coastline.
Dune construction and replenishment are surely an important part of the mix along certain stretches of beachfront. But it is a mistake to cast this particular remedy as a panacea or to stake too much on the outcome of the takings and benefits argument between Gov. Chris Christie and the property-owing holdouts.
Faced with a future of rising seas and more frequent extreme weather in which events like Hurricane Sandy will not be quite so extraordinary, the diverse range of coastal stakeholders - residents, businesses, environmentalists, recreationalists and local, regional and state officials - all need to be talking through a much wider agenda of strategies that will contribute to a more resilient coastal region.
The Sandy Recovery Action Plan issued by the state has met with criticism for placing too great an emphasis on rebuilding in place and too little consideration of rising seas and more frequent extreme weather conditions. What would a broader agenda look like? Among the core strategies we recommend:
• Locally mapping known hazards and vulnerabilities in detail to inform preparedness and response planning for future extreme weather.
• Identifying where to target buyouts and where to promote sustainable redevelopment and future growth.
• Harmonizing local and regional sustainability plans and establishing regional mechanisms to implement them.
• Increasing the use of green infrastructure such as water-permeable pavements, green roofs, dry swales and rain gardens to reduce stormwater runoff and flooding.
• Requiring that public infrastructure spending from the state on down supports sustainability and climate resiliency principles.
• Regularly adapting existing policies and plans to reflect changing conditions, improvements in knowledge and technology, and growing experience in dealing with the effects of extreme weather and rising seas.
Long-term though the problems are, the stakes are high. New Jersey has 127 miles of Atlantic coastline, and 1,792 miles of tidal shore, including the Delaware Bay and New York Harbor. Coastal communities vary widely in their vulnerabilities, depending on the density of development, the age of structures, their socioeconomic mix, whether they are ocean or bayside locations, whether they have hard structures in place to hold back the water, and so on. Thus the tools and options for enhancing resiliency must be tailored to particular circumstances.
Moreover, it is surely unrealistic to expect that federal or state funding will fully cover the costs to reduce vulnerability to future storm destruction. So regional groupings and communities individually cannot wait to start finding and implementing the proper mix of available policy and regulatory tools to promote resiliency.
Sandy demonstrated that New Jersey's historically haphazard and intensive patterns of coastal development have degraded the natural processes of shoreline renewal to the point that vulnerabilities are greater than ever. How New Jersey responds will likely influence other vulnerable coastal regions around the country and beyond. We need to pay attention to far more than the spat between Christie and the no-dune homeowners if real resiliency is to be part of our coastal future.
Linda K. Bentz, a senior consultant at AutoKthonous Market Solutions, a public affairs consulting firm in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is vice chairperson of the land-use planning and advocacy organization PlanSmartNJ. Roger J. Cohen is a principal at AutoKthonous.