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Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Upper Township Studies Climate Change Vulnerabilities

Vulnerability Map

By Vince Conti

PETERSBURG — Upper Township Committee was briefed Nov. 28 on a draft vulnerability assessment report concerning the potential impacts of climate change. The projections in the report, even with what consultant engineer Nicholas Dickerson called a middle of the road approach, present serious threats to the township.
The 85-page-report outlines threats that range from sea level rise to an increase in invasive pests, and from more frequent severe weather events to higher potential wildfires and droughts.
The report was sponsored by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with additional funding coming from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation that requires municipalities to develop climate change strategies. All New Jersey towns must now make climate change a part of their land use planning and Master Plan development.
The diversity of the Upper Township land area is reflected in the report which deals, among other things, with low-lying beach fronts, riverine areas and township encompassed forest land. The report is intended to analyze current and future threats, identifying critical facilities and infrastructure and provide a basis for strategy development and future land use decisions.
The report identified broad areas of threat with the township placing the increased potential for flooding and wildfires as central concerns. The township ranked sea level rise, coastal erosion, rising threats of disease outbreak, drought and tsunami as “medium” hazards, while focusing on flood, wildfires, hurricanes and other severe weather events as “high” degree hazards.
Making use of data from the flooding that followed Hurricane Sandy, the report projected risk conditions for various levels of hurricanes and severe storm events. Even a category 1 storm would leave the municipality with serious flooding on the Strathmere beachfront, on lands adjacent to Cedar Swamp Creek and along parts of the Tuckahoe River. The projections move to a Category 4 storm, which would leave major parts of the township, including significant mainland areas, under as much as nine feet of water.
A Category 1 storm could result in damage totaling $674 million, with a Category 4 event shown as producing over $1.6 billion in replacement value.
The report also cites dangers to the county’s limited evacuation routes, a problem that is also cited in the county Hazard Mitigation Plan.
Some areas of the township at lower risk of flood from storm events are of concern for heightened risk of wildfires. The township has a number of forested areas. The increased risk of wildfires is a major concern in the Garden State, which the Unites States Department of Agriculture estimates is 45% forested.
The vulnerability assessment uses a middle of the road projection for sea level rise citing a 50% chance by 2100 for a rise of 2.8 feet in a low emissions scenario and 3.9 feet for continued high emissions levels. Combining sea level rise with major storm events leads to an increased occurrence of extensive flooding. The report uses the example of a three-foot sea level rise combined with a 100-year storm event that produces a total eight-foot water level.
The report continues with various considerations for future buildout and land development under different climate change impact scenarios. There was no comment on or discussion of the presentation by the township committee.
This analysis comes within the context of shifting responsibilities, outlined by the state’s Chief Resilience Officer Dave Rosenblatt. Speaking at a Pew Charitable Trusts forum, Rosenblatt was clear that the state is “looking to transfer risk down to the local level.” He said that federal and state funding sources are not going to be able to meet all local needs caused by climate change impacts. He made the strategy of shifting increased responsibility to the municipal level unequivocal.
Rosenblatt urged that “municipalities need to start planning their budgets to include set-aside stores for future climate change needs.” What that will mean in coastal regions, where the impacts are likely to carry huge price tags, is not wholly clear.
The potential impact on future development is clearly an issue in the Upper Township assessment. At a state level, Rosenblatt argued that “the state is not trying to limit development” but rather to build mitigation into land use decisions. However one chooses to phrase it, development is likely to see major changes in the regulatory environment.
The full presentation to the committee is available on the township website. Included with the documents is a story map intended for the general public that also contains a survey, which the township hopes residents will take time to complete.
Thoughts on climate change or suggestions on ways your municipality can begin to work to mitigate it? Contact the writer, Vince Conti:






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