Home > Uncategorized > DEP Finally Admits State Flood Prevention Program Is Broken – But Exaggerates Costs In Effort to Torpedo Reforms

DEP Finally Admits State Flood Prevention Program Is Broken – But Exaggerates Costs In Effort to Torpedo Reforms

Legislative Oversight Yields Troubling Findings That Confirm Criticism

DEP Flood Maps 40 Years Old – No State Funding – Only 1 DEP Staffer Working on Maps 

Wise men say that the road to recovery begins with an admission of the problem.

But it is absolutely amazing to hear the things that pop out of DEP staffers’ mouths when they are asked direct questions by legislators – legislators should do it more often.

Yesterday, DEP testified on a bill that would require updates to DEP’s flood maps for inland rivers  – PEER issued a press release highlighting this issue on December 19 –

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

We also wrote here about that issue back in December when Senator Gordon raised the issue with DEP Commissioner Martin and again in January when Gov. Christie issued emergency coastal flood rules

Simple questions from legislators elicited some astounding replies from DEP – replies that confirmed criticisms we have made for many years (e.g. see our 2005 testimony, which cited DEP staff recommendations from 2003).

But our criticisms have been ignored by DEP management, the media, and legislators. Thankfully, that appears to be changing in some legislative quarters, perhaps part of the wake up call from Superstorm Sandy.

So here’s the issue in a nutshell:

Despite NJ’s severe over-development in both flood plains and sensitive headwaters, and repeated flooding that has caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, here’s how DEP has been implementing the 1969 NJ Flood Hazard Control Act:

1) The hydrological and land use data used to generate the DEP flood maps is 40 years old;

2) The most recent “update” of the maps, funded by FEMA, merely reformatted the old data in digital form to produce digitized old maps;

3) Despite the fact that DEP stream encroachment program has issued thousands of permits that include fees to fund the program, the DEP basically has not had a flood map program for decades – the program was staffed by 1 person, and that was recently increased by 3 more staffers, who were funded by FEMA, not NJ State government;

4) Despite decades old maps, repeated severe flood damage, and no staff or budget for the mapping program, DEP managers never publicly acknowledged the problem or made a request that legislators appropriate funds, and Governor Christie did not fund the program in his budget.


Legislators could find numerous similar problems if they merely called DEP staffers to testify in legislative oversight hearings – instead of the spin they accept from DEP Commissioners.

Sarah Watson of the Press of Atlantic City did a nice story:  Legislature moves 2 flood-related measures.

The bill in question – S2208 – needs some work –

DEP suggested amendments, one of which made sense (to set priorities based on flood risks). The other DEP amendment was designed to gut the bill by tying flood map updates to the availability of funds. When asked how much the map updates would cost, DEP repeated an inflated cost estimate of $82 million, based on $16,000 per mile and 5,000 river/stream miles.

Recall that in his December 3, 2012 testimony in response to Senator Gordon’s questions, DEP Commissioner Martin backed away from that and denied that this $81 million cost estimate (fiscal note) came from him. Martin now eats those words and doubles down, clearly an effort to derail the bill because he knows that the Gov. and legislators would never cough up that kind of money.

Senator Gordon agreed to the DEP suggestion about risk based priorities, but not the link to available funding.

Chairman Smith suggested an amendment to require an annual DEP Report to the Legislature in anticipation of the budget cycle.

Jeff Tittel of Sierra suggested an amendment to require DEP revisions to the Stream Encroachment regulations to require compliance with updated maps.

There seemed to be consensus on a set of amendments which were agreed to and the bill was amended and released – amendments are still not available.

I assume the bill will be referred to appropriations.

Even if this desperately needed bill is passed by both Houses of the Legislature, I strongly doubt that Gov. Christie would sign it because it imposes more stringent state regulatory requirements, and thus contradicts the Gov. policies in Executive Orders #2 (“regulatory relief”) #3 (“red tape”) and #4 (“unfunded State mandates”).

To invoke Senator Smith: elections do have consequences.

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  1. Bill Neil
    June 4th, 2013 at 10:23 | #1

    Remarkable what you find when you look under that bi-partisan blanket that the “Gov” and the “Pres” have wrapped themselves in.

  2. June 4th, 2013 at 11:27 | #2

    @Bill Neil
    Ah, yes Bill, the “bipartisan blanket” is a wonderful metaphor – you should trademark it now and submit a book proposal to The Nation Institute or Verso books.

    Just think of the target rich policy environment to flesh out that metaphor: the blankets provide cover and comfort for the oligarchs, as we are left out in the cold.

    Beneath than blanket, the Obama and Christiecrats craft a virtual Kama Sutra of ways to screw the middle class and the planet a the same time!

    Go for it Bill, you’re the writer here!

  3. Bill Neil
    June 4th, 2013 at 12:15 | #3

    No, no bill, you’re doing just fine with the possibilities. So when was the last great moment for the Democratic Party in New Jersey? When Woodrow Wilson turned around and bit the hand that had thought it had leashed him on the way to the governorship, the urban bosses themselves? And let’s not forget the great Republican urban machine in Atlantic City…the one so finely portrayed in the recent cable series “Boardwalk Empire”…

    Let’s watch the drama play out for nominating a successor to Senator Lautenberg…

    To me, reading the good Senator’s obituary in the NY Times this morning, what struck me most powerfully was his recollection of his fable-like visit with his father to the Paterson Silk mills: “‘My father took me in there one time and told me to look around…He said you must never work like this. He said you have to get an education. I was 12…'”

    “Never work like this…”

    So much of the American Dream in that recollection, something that is ever pointing upwards and away from present reality; education will enable us to escape the nearly unbearable present, with such echoes of present day Democrats…and their obsession with education as the great solution… a GI bill once made that possible, all that Congress would give, a narrow sliver of FDR’s vision for a “Second Bill of Rights.”

    But what does that mean for today: those who have seized the dream are now the 1% and very few carry the memory of the New Deal as much as the Senator did…indeed, his party has banished it nearly as much as the Right….so many following the Dream and fresh out of college are working, if lucky, by displacing those with less formal education…and unlike the New Deal in the 1930’s…this contemporary version of the Dream refuses to grapple, in the way the CIO did, with the on-the-ground workplace conditions – and pay – of what the equivalent to Paterson’s silk workers are facing…would that be Wal-Mart, do you think? Always evading the here and now for the great escalator up or around…and now pitting the stressed middle class against the comfy unionized public workers…Gov. Christie?…with the great climate threat pressing in upon us at the same time…who can say which is the greater evasion?

    By the way, and a footnote to Paterson, NJ, my wonderful dog Josie was abandoned on the streets of Paterson (or dumped their from the suburbs?), and left on the doorsteps of St. Joseph’s hospital to be brought home as a present by my future wife – 13 years ago. No one had ever heard of Belgian Malinois’ then, so the first vet wrote (Shepard Mix) on the visit card. I understand, for what its worth, that the dog that went on the Bin Laden mission was a male Malinois named “Cairo.” Josie’s a civilian though, and if she’s done nothing else, and she’s done a lot, she’s made many, many children very happy with her friendly disposition. Eaten a lot of rabbits too; can’t get rid of all those 97% “Grey Wolf” genes.

  4. Bill Neil
    June 4th, 2013 at 13:24 | #4

    I’d better not leave out former Democratic Governor Brendan Byrne and his administration’s passage of the Pinelands Protection Act of 1979 from that short “great moments” list of the Dems. But would the party itself see it that way, in light of all that has unfolded since then? Democratic Environ. Committee Chairman Dan Dalton was still angry at the Pinelands Bill a decade later, and insisted no Coastal Commission bill sought by Republican Governor Thomas Kean would pass his committee. A great footnote – or maybe asterisk is closer – for an otherwise very good Democratic-environmental Senator.

  1. July 21st, 2015 at 08:28 | #1
  2. October 6th, 2015 at 11:48 | #2
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