Trenton, NJ: Today the Christie Administration DEP announced a new project to protect the Middlesex County Utilities Authority’s Sayreville pump station from storm surge and flooding. The project includes a 1,700-foot flood wall and other measures. The $88 million low-interest bridge loan is being provided by the state in response to the damages seen during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

“What happened to these pump stations and the sewer plant during Hurricane Sandy created an environmental disaster by spewing sewage into our waterways. It’s important that we have efforts to try to make the plant more resilient but we need to make sure that what we’re doing will work in the long-term. If sea level rise and the frequency of storm surges are not factored into that plan, then the money we’re spending and infrastructure we’re building will be wasted. Hardening and structures must be built following the most up-to-date science. Unfortunately, the Christie Administration has refused to even use the words ‘sea level rise’ or ‘climate impacts.’ They have not used up-to-date data from FEMA maps or the most recent science from NOAA or Rutgers University on sea level rise and climate impacts. If you build these structures without the best science in mind, they will fail,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Three years ago during Hurricane Sandy, there were significant system failures and discharges of untreated wastewater from the wastewater pump stations in Middlesex County into the Raritan River and Raritan Bay. A billion gallons of untreated sewage poured into the surrounding waterways in the days following the storm.

“These pump stations can release millions of gallons of sewage into the waterways. This robs the waterways of oxygen as well as risks contaminating drinking water. Flood walls aren’t going to stop these plants from contaminating the water again, nor will they protect the communities around them unless we build them with the most recent information that incorporates changes from climate change,” said Jeff Tittel. “Hard structures like walls don’t usually work to stop flooding. They give false hope and waste money. They can also cause flooding in other areas by redirecting the water.”

When it comes to dealing with climate change and flooding, the Christie Administration has moved in the wrong direction.  The DEP’s changes to the CAFRA and Coastal Zone Management rules will add more loopholes and waivers and weakening coastal protections.  The rules do not strengthen protections, encourage more regional planning, address climate change or sea level rise, and they do not include programs for adaptation or mitigation of sea level rise, resiliency, or natural systems restoration.  Without climate change data and projections, we cannot properly build to protect our shores from the results of climate change like sea level rise and storm surges.

“We are not looking at the affects and changes from climate change in these plans. Unless we plan for sea level rise and flooding, this money will go right out to sea with the next storm,” said Jeff Tittel.

Governor Christie eliminated the Office of Climate Change within in our DEP and has undone efforts under previous administrations to implement hazard planning. New Jersey is failing to do buyouts along the coast, regional planning, adaption for seal level rise and mitigation.  Following the Hurricane, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin signed an Administrative Consent Order waiving compliance with CAFRA, Flood Hazard Area, and wetlands protections for infrastructure rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy.  Under the ACO infrastructure will be rebuilt in the same vulnerable areas that were just destroyed. The ACO waives environmental standards while discouraging better planning.  The Governor issued an Emergency Order adopting FEMA advisory base flood maps, but these maps do not include the latest data from Hurricane Sandy or sea level rise and only apply to coastal areas, not inland. Not including climate change predictions means our efforts will be wasted in the long run.

“These plans for Middlesex County will fail because they are not accounting for sea level rise or storm surges that will result from climate change. The Christie Administration won’t allow for climate change to be part of the discussion and it will only cause more harm to these beaches and communities,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra. “If you do not deal with climate change or sea level rise, you can never make the walls high enough.”