Home > Uncategorized > NJ Spotlight Provides A Platform For Murphy DEP Commissioner To Spin Shore Risks And Ignore DEP’s Neglect

NJ Spotlight Provides A Platform For Murphy DEP Commissioner To Spin Shore Risks And Ignore DEP’s Neglect

Murphy DEP Continues Gov. Christie’s “Rebuild Madness”

DEP Remains In Denial On The Need For Strategic Retreat

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Just last Sunday, NJ Spotlight reporter Andrew Lewis wrote a major Sunday NY Times magazine story – it’s unusually lengthy title pretty much summed things up:

Buried 10 long paragraphs into the story, it included these astonishing previously reported facts:

You could be forgiven for thinking the Jersey Shore’s local governments are not terribly concerned by such warnings. According to a report from Climate Central and Zillow, some 4,500 homes, worth $4.6 billion, were built in New Jersey between 2010 and 2016 in areas where, even if global greenhouse gas emissions decrease moderately, there will be a risk of flooding once per decade, at a minimum, starting in 2050. The report also notes that no state has built new homes in a risk zone at a faster pace — not even Florida, with far more shoreline. And that was before the pandemic and the resulting urban exodus and real estate boom. Houses built 15 years ago are being torn down and replaced with bigger ones that occupy as much square footage as zoning rules allow, Martin Pagliughi, Avalon’s eight-term mayor, told me. In the last two years, the median price of the homes sold in the borough climbed by $700,000. The era of the quaint fishing cottage is dead.

Note the exclusive focus on local government, to the exclusion of State government and DEP coastal planning and regulatory programs.

Note that the timeframe (2010-2016) is the Christie Administration, conveniently ignoring at risk development approved by the Murphy administration. The Climate Central/Zillow Report Lewis cites was updated on July 31, 2019, so some of that data should be available.

In reporting on a US Army Corps of Engineers study on back bay flooding, the NYT story cited this important finding by the Corps:

The study’s authors concede that “in some cases, just as ecosystems migrate and change functions, human systems may have to relocate in a responsible manner.”

Let’s repeat that recommendation:

human systems may have to relocate in a responsible manner.

That has been described in DEP’s own federally approved coastal management strategy as “strategic retreat”, a planning policy they have run away from for years.

Here are specific directly on point examples of that I’ve written about:

Curious, the NYT story then mentioned the New Jersey’s home-buyout program, Blue Acres” – the State level program that NYT readers can only assume is responsible for the “relocation in a responsible manner” recommended by the Corps – but failed to note that the Blue Acres program is part of the DEP or report critically on the performance of that program.

The story also failed to mention that DEP is legally responsible for coastal zone management and regulating coastal land use and infrastructure under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act and the NJ Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA).

I submitted the following reader comment, pointing out the flaws and omissions in the NYT reporting by Mr. Lewis:

Astonishing for this story to fail to mention the fact that NJ has a federally approved Coastal Zone Management Program, adopted under federal and NJ State laws. It includes State DEP review of certain developments, including all major infrastucture like water, sewer, roads, and beach and coastal engineering.

Under these laws, the DEP has adopted land use regulations, including flood elevation and building standards – that’s why houses are built on stilts! Gov. Christie championed a Sandy recovery policy I dubbed “rebuild madness” that that put all that new development at risk.

Additionally, under the NJ State Development and Redevelopment Plan, the DEP and State Planning Commission have mapped coastal “centers” for intense growth, under relaxed DEP coastal regulations.

Your source, Professor Stu Farrell has been a longtime cheerleader for beach replenishment and failed engineering solutions. He  is not going to tell a NYT reporter about this. Nor are local Mayors and Mr. Farrell going to brief the NYT on State DEP coastal plans and regulations.

The DEP implements the “Blue Acres” program, and it is a failure. There is no planning whatsoever: acquisitions are scattershot and based on willing sellers, not risk. There is no DEP plan to “relocate in a responsible manner” and certainly no policy for “strategic retreat”.

NJ leads the nation in repeat flood claims. That is a result of the State’s failure to plan for and regulate land use in the coastal zone.

But the State of NJ and DEP are not alone in their irresponsible neglect.

President Obama issued an Executive Order on climate adaptation and coastal resilience.

Federal agencies were directed to coordinate their federal authorities, which include approval of State coastal zone management plans and allocation of federal FEMA and other recovery, infrastructure, and resilience money.

That Order was never seriously implemented. Federal taxpayer funds subsidized all that at risk development. Federal regulators approved State funding and coastal plans and policies that allowed it to happen.

The Obama HUD approved and provided billions of dollars of federal funding to Gov. Christie’s “Rebuild madness” program, that failure is what contributed to the huge at risk new development referenced in this article. Obama HUD – and the federal agencies – have ignored Obama’s own Executive Order.

Mr. Andrew Lewis somehow missed more of the story than he covered – in the process letting DEP, Gov. Murphy, and State officials completely off the hook.

But, it gets worse.

While ignoring critical issues, the NYT story at least reported facts that showed how irresponsible NJ was in actually increasing development in high risk areas along the shore and cited the US Army Corps recommendation on the need for a “strategic retreat”.

Just days later, on August 20 NJ Spotlight jumped into the fray, with a closely related story by the same reporter, Andrew Lewis, see:

The Spotlight story did mention some of the comments I filed on the NYT omissions (Lewis reads reader comments, I’m sure) but focused primarily on the US Army Corps back bay flooding Report. But surely Lewis knows that the any USACOE recommendations must be approved by NJ DEP.

Ignoring the role of DEP in implementing any USACOE recommendation, Mr. Lewis also repeated many of the same errors and omissions in his NY Times story, but went a step further and made his neglect even worse.

Recall that Lewis’s NYT story failed to report on DEP’s coastal management responsibilities or that the Blue Acres program was managed by DEP.

But for his NJ Spotlight story. Mr. Lewis fixed that error by finally mentioned DEP, at the very end of a long story.

But in doing so, he managed to ignore all the critical facts and findings in his prior reporting for the NYT (i.e. NJ is leading the country in number of new units of housing at risk, the need for strategic retreat, et al) and instead provided a platform for DEP Commissioner LaTourette to flat out lie, with zero pushback or context.

Lewis wrote this bullshit that flat out contradicts his own prior reporting for The NY Times:

In an interview with NJ Spotlight News in May, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette was asked about the massive scale of the back bays study. He recalled an analogy that one of his counterparts in the Pacific Northwest had recently made.

“She said, ‘There’s no silver bullet, it’s silver buckshot,’” LaTourette said. “We’ve got to look at this as some types of solutions in one place and other types of solutions in another. It’s not going to be the case that we pick up whole communities and move them inland. That won’t be necessary in all spaces, but we need to consider where it will and won’t be with what we’re building today, because we know better.”

Are you kidding me? DEP knows better? What is the evidence for that?

Why didn’t’ Lewis push back with facts or the lack of DEP regulations? Why didn’t Lewis include a critical source or context to expose LaTourette’s lies?

For 4 years, the Murphy DEP has done nothing to regulate shore development or plan for strategic retreat.

Instead, DEP has abdicated its legal responsibility under federal and State laws and delegated the problem to local governments (those same local governments Mr. Lewis essentially ridiculed for ignoring scientific warnings in his prior NY Times story).

The Murphy administration and DEP have replicated Gov. Christie’s “Rebuild Madness” and engaged in a very similar form of irresponsible climate denial by failing to act.

The Democrats in the Legislature have either ignored all this through lack of critical legislative oversight or affirmatively supported it by approving DEP’s budget and confirming DEP Commissioner LaTourette without extracting any policy concessions.

Of course, the public doesn’t know about any of this, because NJ Spotlight – like NJ environmental groups – have abdicated too.

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