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“Strategic Adjustment” – Or Rebuild Madness?

Governor Christie Has Chosen The “Madness” Option

Christie Reverses Longstanding DEP Coastal Policy

Playing Russian Roulette With Other People’s Lives and Money

Gov. Remains in Deep Denial on Climate Change

 

“It’s just madness to rebuild right back where the buildings were destroyed before, and where they will be destroyed in the future,” said Orrin H. Pilkey, Professor Emeritus of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, at Duke University.

“It’s my view that the cost of saving New York will be so great, and that includes Philadelphia, Boston, Miami and so forth, that barrier islands will become low priority and people will be forced to retreat whether they like it or not,” said Pilkey. (1/31/13 – WNYC)

Professor Pilkey’s “madness” quote has been circulating for some time, but, he’s put an even more powerful issue on the table – money. We simply  can’t afford to rebuild homes on the barrier islands. Resources are scarce and needed for much more important and costly adaptation of major cities.

Well Marty, people don’t necessarily need to agree to “retreat”. Reality has a way of intruding – a major storm just might make relocation decisions for them. Don’t say you weren’t warned. (Bill Wolfe, 10/26/12)

Back on Nov. 7, 2009, we wrote:

“here are warnings from DEP’s Coastal Assessment Report to the federal government – warnings that have been long ignored:

Many parts of New Jersey’s densely populated coastal area are highly susceptible to the effects of the following coastal hazards: flooding, storm surge, episodic erosion, chronic erosion, sea level rise, and extra-tropical storms. Reconstruction of residential development and the conversion of single family dwellings into multi-unit dwellings continues in hazardous areas; the value of property at risk is increasing significantly. With anticipated accelerating sea level rise and increasing storm frequency and intensity, vulnerability to the risks of coastal hazards will not abate; it will only become more costly.

All of the impediments to meeting this 309 programmatic objective that appeared in the last New Jersey Coastal Zone Section 309 Assessment and Strategy remain. These include lobbying efforts of special interest groups, legal challenges to DEP permit decisions, provision of flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program, and public perception that large-scale beach nourishment projects eliminate vulnerability to coastal hazards.

Imagine that! DEP actually honestly criticized the negative effects of the “lobbying efforts of special interest groups” and the federal flood insurance program and a false “public perception that large-scale beach nourishment projects eliminate vulnerability to coastal hazards.”

Could you imagine Governor Christie or his puppet DEP Commissioner Bob Martin saying any of that?

The Governor is stoking and manipulating exactly the same false perceptions that DEP professionals criticized!

DEP’s 309 Coastal Hazard Assessment Reports have long explicitly recognized  NJ’s serious coastal hazards, the amplification of those risks by climate change, and the “strategic retreat” policy option- longstanding DEP expert findings and coastal policy that has been reversed under Gov. Christie.

The Governor remains in deep denial about both climate change and coastal hazards.

The most recent 309 Report excluded the “strategic retreat” concept. Here are the prior DEP findings that have been eliminated by the Christie DEP:

Titus demonstrates (link) that in certain instances, structural engineering solutions will not be practical or economically feasible. In these cases future public and private development and redevelopment must be directed away from the hazardous areas. While some derogatorily refer to this option as “retreat,” from the perspective of sound planning based on the best available science, the concept actually involves “strategic adjustment.” Prudent planning requires that we expand upon the existing studies of the societal, economic, and environmental costs of possible mitigative actions while the greatest number of alternatives exist. [Read full 2006 DEP 309 Report]

[Note: DEP also down graded the priority of coastal hazards from high to medium because the administration had other priorities - like promoting economic development and the Barnegat Bay Blitz.]

All that historical background is provided as context for today’s NJ Spotlight, which published a fine piece of journalism by WNYC on the issue of whether to rebuilt or “retreat”, see:

Rebuild or Retreat from the Jersey Shore? - In devastated Ortley Beach, residents struggle to decide next move

Three months after Sandy, some New Jersey shore communities remain uninhabitable, without utilities and other amenities. There’s a rush to rebuild, but some geologists endorse what they call “strategic retreat” from the ocean front, especially on barrier islands.

We are pleased to see the “strategic retreat” option finally being addressed by the media. That door opened a crack back on November 17, 2012, but was quickly closed with no followup coverage or any real public discussion. In fact, it appears that Senate President Sweeney has run away from some of his early strong statements (see: Whether to Rebuild the Jersey Shore is ow on the Table)

We hope that this critical discussion is not too late, because we fear that the policy train at the federal and state government levels seems to have left the station long ago, see:  NJ Gov. Christie Slams Door Shut on Coastal and Climate Change Reforms In Wake of Sandy (11/28/12)

We’ve been writing about all that for some time, and recently included it as a critical benchmark for evaluating Gov. Christie’s response plan, see Benchmarks to Test Gov. Christie’s Sandy Rebuild Plan 

But there were a few important issues and facts left out of the otherwise superb WNYC story.

I)  ”Strategic Retreat” Option Taboo – Deleted From DEP Hazard Assessment 

We all know that Gov. Christie is committed to the rebuild option and is seeking to do so: 1) as fast as possible; 2) with no plan; 3) with no planning process and all decisions made behind closed doors in consultation with his “Rebuild Czar”; and 4) with the most federal bailout money available.

Christie is perfectly illustrating what Professor Pilkey calls “madness”.

The Governor also has made numerous highly misleading – and sometimes flat out false  - statements that “engineering solutions” and “engineered beaches” protect the development behind them.

[Update: watch this video to see exactly how the Governor blatantly mislead the public: Hurricane Sandy and the Jersey Shore: did engineering or ecology protect us better?]

No secret there -

The Governor’s positions are well known and he does not shy away from promoting them on any occasion, especially press releases and photo-op political campaign stunts for projects funded by FEMA bailout money.

But, what is not known, not covered by the media, and not disclosed by the Governor is the fact that he has changed NJ’s historical coastal hazard assessment conducted by DEP in a way the eliminates even discussion of the “strategic retreat” option and reverses longstanding DEP policy that “in certain instances, structural engineering solutions will not be practical or economically feasible.”

The Gov. doesn’t want the public to know that the “retreat” option even exists or that there are limits to engineered approaches. 

The DEP historically has presented  a discussion of the “strategic adjustment” option and limits to structural engineering approaches in the biennial Coastal Assessment Report submitted to the federal government under the fedral Coastal Zone Management Act – here is an excerpt:

Titus demonstrates (link) that in certain instances, structural engineering solutions will not be practical or economically feasible. In these cases future public and private development and redevelopment must be directed away from the hazardous areas. While some derogatorily refer to this option as “retreat,” from the perspective of sound planning based on the best available science, the concept actually involves “strategic adjustment.” Prudent planning requires that we expand upon the existing studies of the societal, economic, and environmental costs of possible mitigative actions while the greatest number of alternatives exist. [Read full 2006 DEP 309 Report]

Those findings and policy discussion was deleted from the Christie DEP’s 2010 309 Report.

II)  FEMA Advisory Maps Don’t Include Sandy Elevations or Climate Change Impacts

The people facing tough decisons about whether to rebuild or retreat deserve honest and complete facts from government, with all options on the table.

Governor Christie is misleading those people – both by what he says and what he fails to disclose.

Most – not some – experts agree that climate change driven sea level rise and more extreme storms will occur.

The elevations of the storm surge will overwhelm dunes systems.

The FEMA Advisory Base Flood Elevations (ABFE) and maps do not reflect the elevations we experienced under Sandy.

The FEMA ABFE maps do not reflect scientific projections of sea level rise and more intense storms that we will se under climate change (see:  NEW JERSEY YET TO COME TO GRIPS WITH POST-SANDY FLOOD RISKS - Coastal Maps Do Not Account for Climate Change Effects; Inland Maps Decades Old

The Governor is not telling the people facing rebuild or retreat decisions these facts – instead, he is misleading them.

It is not possible to have an honest, informed, democratic discussion of options under these conditions.

The media needs to make these facts more well known – people deserve to know exactly what they are getting into and that it is only a question of when – not whether – their rebuilt homes get wiped out again.

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