LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — New Jersey could limit building in areas that are expected to flood regularly by 2050, if planners have their way.
That’s the recommendation of the nonprofit group hired to help the state avoid future flood damage.
The planners also want to encourage people to move inland, using buyout programs and measures such as prohibiting rebuilding of repeatedly flooded properties.
NJ Future is recommending the state create a Conservation Zone seaward of the 2050 mean higher high water line along the coast, so new marshes can develop there as existing ones are lost to sea-level rise, Planning Manager David Kutner said.
The organization uses a prediction of a sea-level rise by 2050 of about a foot and a half, based on Rutgers University research.
Small areas of residential development in Tuckerton would fall in the Conservation Zone, including parts of neighborhoods near Green Street Park, Kutner said.
The analysis is specific to Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor Township because planners from New Jersey Future were embedded in those towns and other communities for three years after Hurricane Sandy. But any recommendations accepted by the state Department of Environmental Protection would apply to parts of all coastal communities along the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.
The report’s recommendations will focus on how the DEP should change its Coastal Area Facilities Review Act rules in the face of rising sea levels and sinking coastal ground. It will go to the DEP by the end of the year, Kutner said.
The nonprofit NJ Future held a public meeting in the Little Egg Harbor Community Center in the Mystic Island section Tuesday night, attended by about 30 people, to discuss its findings.
NJ Future also recommended looking at ways to encourage people to move inland, including expanding buyout programs such as Blue Acres and limiting the right to rebuild after payouts have reached 50 percent of a structure’s value.
Current CAFRA rules allow rebuilding in the same place “repetitively forever. It defies logic,” Kutner said.
NJ Future worked with officials and community leaders from Little Egg Harbor, Tuckerton and Toms River to develop the recommendations for coastal communities throughout the state.
Kutner said nothing will happen quickly.
“Our recommendations are just that — recommendations,” he said. “Trust me, it will be a long public process. This is a start to the conversation.”
Areas that would be inundated only in a 1 percent storm or greater, equivalent to Sandy, would be in an Accommodation Zone, Kutner said.
That would include much of the heavily developed Mystic Island and Osborne Island sections of Little Egg and much of Tuckerton, including Tuckerton Seaport and sections of downtown, he said.
In the Accommodation Zone, the organization suggests reducing existing development, instituting more stringent design rules and lessening impervious surfaces such as pavement.
While elevating structures will buy time, it’s not a long-term solution, Kutner said.
“You can’t elevate roads. You can’t elevate sewers or water systems,” he said. “The problem is, as flooding occurs more regularly, elevating homes will protect those homes … but you won’t be able to access them the way you access them now, if the predictions come true.”
Elderly and disabled people can’t negotiate elevated units, he added.
Residents in attendance expressed both a love of living near the water and the realization that floods are more common today and are likely to increase in frequency.
“There’s no way you are going to stop that water,” said a man who said he lives at the end of East Cala Breeze Way in the township’s Mystic Island section. “The water roars right across the wetlands.”
“This should have been dealt with years ago,” said builder Paul A. Rueda of PKR Construction in Beach Haven, who grew up in the township. “How come nothing was done then?”
Kutner said that’s why his organization is working on the issues now.
“Let’s not let more time go by, then look back 10 years from now and say, ‘Why didn’t we do it then?’” Kutner said.