The NJDEP has made an amendment to the wetlands boundary of a section of Long Beach Island to allow development in an area prone to flooding. The CAFRA amendment changes the boundaries and coastal wetland maps, which was written by builders and owners of the site to develop the property. Wetlands act as an important part of flood protection and help reduce the flood hazard level. These wetlands also protect water quality, while recharging the aquifer and offer an important natural habitat. The proposal takes no consideration for future storm events and flooding. The site located in the Holgate section of Long Beach Island was impacted by flooding during Hurricane Sandy, further threatening surrounding residents during the next storm.

 

“The DEP has sided with developers instead of protecting our coast by approving an amendment to remove a wetlands designation in a flood-prone area. Instead of taking sea level rise and increased storms from climate change into account, the DEP is going along with an amendment written by developers. This site actually protected other homes during Hurricane Sandy that would have experienced flooding if not for this important wetland. The DEP says there are no longer wetlands on this site, but if nature can change the wetland, nature can change the whole area. What Sandy created, the next storm could take away. This amendment shows DEP has continued to deny climate change science and sea level rise, while putting more people and property at risk,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

 

The petition from builders was to exclude an approximate 2.2-acre portion of property as coastal wetlands, but puts the entire Holgate area at risk for future storm impacts. After the marshes were supposedly wiped out by Sandy, DEP found that sand was deposited as a result of the storm. Some locals thought the sand might have been trucked in. Though the site does not contain marshes currently, the site is still a flood prone area and extremely vulnerable to future storm impacts. The property is especially vulnerable since it sits on the side of the Barnegat Bay, which has experienced more flooding and damages during recent storm events.

 

“The development of this site hurts the environment because it is still an environmentally sensitive coastal area. We are even more concerned that we are putting more people and property in harm’s way. This change is like shifting the sands of time. The site that was once a wetland could be buried under water during the next storm. It also served as a buffer to absorb storm surges, but with this amendment the DEP has allowed to build in a flood-prone area,” said Tittel.

The Christie Administration’s policies have also rolled back rules to protect wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas including the Coastal Area Facilities Act, which has opened more coastal areas to development. They have also proposed to weaken the Flood Hazard rules and the Water Quality Management Planning rules which will put more people and property at risk and lead to more water pollution impacts. These policies will leave us at risk during the next storm.

“The Christie Administration has added loopholes for increased development, including in environmentally sensitive wetlands, stream buffers, and flood prone areas. They have eliminated the NJDEP Coastal Program that addressed Adaptation and Mitigation, an award-winning office that worked on climate change and sea level rise, closed the Office of Climate Change and do not use updated flood maps. The DEP will not even use the words ‘climate change’ or ‘sea level rise. They are actually the only state in the nation without a mitigation plan. The only science this Administration believes in is political science in order to take care of developers and special interest groups,” said Jeff Tittel.“Instead of taking a holistic and regional approach for resiliency, the Christie Administration has opened up more environmentally sensitive areas to development and proposed projects that will leave the area more vulnerable. Without looking at the real climate change impacts like sea level rise, and protecting our wetlands, our coast is still more vulnerable to the next storm.”

With over-development and sea level rise, we should be moving people away from flood-prone areas. We need to develop an overall comprehensive approach for resiliency and coastal planning including buyouts, raising homes, and mitigation. The DEP conducted extensive research to prove that sand was naturally deposited on this site, not deliberately dumped upon, like some locals claimed. However, the origin of the sand, the DEP must look at climate change science to determine whether it is practical to build on former coastal wetlands. Extreme weather events and sea level flooding are only projected to increase. Residents here have also complained about simple rainstorms causing heavy flooding.

 

“What makes this wetlands amendment even worse is that DEP has sided with developers over environmental protection. The rule itself is coming from the developers who have a conflict of interest and have asked for a change in the rule. It is arrogant and ludicrous that the DEP thinks this site will not be flooded by the next storm. Taking a proposal written by developers for developers to change the Coastal Zone Management Rules shows the DEP would rather work for developers than people of N.J. The DEP would rather put homes and people at risk then the protect the environment,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

New Jersey Sierra Club press release