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Towns Warned to Create Climate Change Policies

 

By Jack Fichter

LITTLE EGG HARBOR – Nicole Maher of the Nature Conservancy said sea level rise is like being attacked by a giant snail noting both would be a “large looming, seemingly slow moving threat.”
“How do we compel people to action?” she asked an audience of representatives of planning boards, environmental commissions and emergency management personnel from towns throughout Cape May County converged here to learn of strategies of dealing with climate change.
Maher said it is hard to envision the impacts of sea level rise and even harder to envision the necessary changes to adapt and deal with sea level rise. The event was sponsored by the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, Urban Coast Institute at Monmouth University, Barnegat Bay National Estuary Program and the Coastal Management Program of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
While a certain percentage of the public may not believe in global warming, government officials from local municipalities to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DEP, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are taking it seriously.
Mike DeLucca, senior associate director of Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, said changes can already be observed here such as species of clams and croakers moving further north than ever before. He said climate change would bring more frequent and more intense storms.
Rick Lathrop of Rutgers Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis said studies have shown an increasing frequency of coastal storms and wave activity off the coast.
Jim Titus from the EPA Office of Research and Development Climate Change Program has been studying climate change since the early 1980s. He said a rising sea level turns wetlands into open shallow water, floodplains become wetlands, floods get higher, areas that normally did not flood begin flooding and groundwater gets higher, he said.
Titus said beaches and wetlands erode and saltwater migrates inland. He said municipalities have two ways to respond to rising sea level: “hold back the sea or retreat.”
When retreating, people and nature move inland. In protection: no one moves. A hybrid of the two is “accommodation,” where people stay where they are but the water keeps coming in, said Titus. He used the term shoreline armory to describe building bulkheads, dikes and other construction methods if towns do not want to give up lands to a rising sea. Folks can elevate their homes and municipalities can elevate their beaches with sand renourishment, said Titus.
Retreating from the rising sea can involve using rolling or conservation easements where the homeowner agrees not to hold back the sea and ultimately the land will be reclaimed by nature.
“When you don’t have a plan, there is a plan because the world will progress,” said Titus.
He said the Delaware Bay shores are likely to remain unprotected with the marshes migrating inland while developed areas on the ocean are more likely to be protected. Titus said towns need to develop comprehensive plans.
Norb Psuty of Rutgers IMCS, said the Atlantic City tide gate is showing a sea level rise of 4 millimeters per year as a combination of rising water and the land sinking which amounts to 18 inches per century. Other tide gauges are showing similar figures: Lewes, Del.: 3.1mm per year, Sandy Hook: 4.1mm and Portsmouth, Va.: 3.7mm.
The figures are showing the rate of sea level rise is increasing, said Psuty. Shorelines are responding by moving inland while some dunes are breaking down and reforming inland.
Looking at the year 2050 using the linear rate of sea level rise and looking back on past hurricanes and tropical storms, the storm surges would be higher than any level ever experienced here.
“We have to have some kind of strategy to deal with it,” said Psuty.
He said land use should be looked at 20, 30, 50 years into the future to address a variety of outcomes for land use allocations involving sea level rise.
Marjorie Kaplan of the state DEP Office of Climate and Energy said President Obama’s Administration through NOAA created a climate change task force with more than 20 federal agencies. A report will be delivered to Obama in the fall.
A draft report was issued two weeks ago which indicates the federal government will work with state and local agencies.
Kaplan said comprehensive localized risk and vulnerability assessments need to be developed with a coordinated effort at the local level. She said DEP operates under the Global Warming Response Act created in 2007 which establishes statewide greenhouse gas limits to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to further reduce emissions to 80 percent below 2006 levels by 2050.
The first climate plan for New Jersey was released last December, said Kaplan. She said the report recommends incorporating a climate change component into municipal master plans to be consistent with the greenhouse gas limits. The report is available on the NJ DEP Web site. Kaplan said DEP is developing a wetlands monitoring program that will look at 300 sites.
Maher said the Nature Conservancy pulled together a large group of partners to develop on Online interactive mapping tool that identify what’s at risk and evaluate what can be done to adapt to that risk. She said voluntary land acquisition must be expanded including funding to purchase vulnerable lands that can be undeveloped to allow for coastal migration. She said vulnerable structures need to be relocated.
Stewart Farrell of Stockton College said a warmer ocean means more frequent, more intense storms. He said New Jersey’s sediment starved shoreline means more rapid erosion.
Danielle Kreeger, of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary Program, showed photos of “living shorelines,” using oysters and mussels to hold together Delaware Bay side marshes and beaches. Such a program can use coconut fiber mats for mussels to attach.
Kreeger said logs could be placed at the shoreline for $10 a linear foot with oyster bags attached, something a lot less expensive than building a bulkhead. She said it worked best in sites with lower wave energy.
During a question and answer session, Marguerite Chandler of Cape May Point’s Environmental Commission referred to a story in the Herald noting that a hurricane in the 1850’s caused the ocean and bay meet in Court House.
Psuty said Court House was a barrier island 100,000 years ago with breaks and inlets.
“I would guess that one of these major storms that there is potentially opportunity for one of these old inlets to be a funnel through which water would connect from the ocean into Delaware Bay,” he said.

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