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Monday, July 15, 2024


OP-ed: Governor Threatens Future of Jersey Shore

OP-ed: Governor Threatens Future of Jersey Shore

By Ray Cantor, Deputy Chief Government Affairs Officer at NJBIA

Ray Cantor
Ray Cantor

Former Gov. Chris Christie was famous for saying “get the hell off the beach” as a blunt message to residents to temporarily leave the shore in the wake of the approaching Superstorm Sandy.

People took heed, went to safer areas, and came back and rebuilt their homes and communities after that devastating storm had passed. The Jersey Shore was restored.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s message to our shore communities is not as blunt but will have far more lasting negative impacts. He is telling us to “move to safer areas” or rather “retreat” from the shore. Retreat is the stated goal, although buried in Chapter 6.9 of the state’s Climate Change Resilience Strategy. 

While the strategy acknowledges that a “large-scale managed retreat from New Jersey’s coast is unlikely to be necessary or mandated in the immediate future, (emphasis added)” the strategy is clear that actions must be taken now to start that process.

The state is taking its first major step in driving people off the coast when the Department of Environmental Protection publishes its 1,057-page Resilient Environments and Landscapes rule proposal next month (a courtesy copy can be found on the DEP website).

That rule proposal, if adopted, will have a devastating impact on the entire state, but its target is on our coastal residents.

There are three key provisions that will severely impact our shore communities: 1) Assuming a 5-foot sea level rise (SLR) by 2100 and applying that standard today; 2) Eliminating coastal centers; and 3) Applying a 150-foot riparian buffer along the bay side of barrier islands.

By far the most onerous of these proposed changes is that of SLR. While we agree that the state should consider climate change and SLR rise projections in their coastal regulations, what the Murphy administration is proposing goes far beyond any rational proposal. In fact, no other state or federal agency is regulating SLR to this extent. 

The clear objective of the proposal is not to protect residents from rising seas but to make it harder to live, work, and develop along the coast. It is the first step, a giant one at that, towards a managed retreat.

The 5-foot standard is not supported by any current scientific study. In fact, it has been rejected as being of “low confidence” and without a firm scientific foundation. The Murphy administration knows this, yet they are pushing a SLR standard that will negatively impact everyone living or vacationing at the shore.

Here are the facts: New Jersey is sinking by 1 foot per century. This is the result of the end of the last glacial age. We have been sinking for thousands of years and will continue to sink at this rate for thousands of years to come. The planet is warming, and that warming expands the oceans causing them to rise relative to the coast. 

While models to predict the future of the Earth’s climate have proven to be unreliable, the best estimates show a zero-to-2-foot rise by the end of the century. So, if the science shows a 1-3 foot (sinking plus predicted SLR) of SLR in 75 years from now, why is DEP proposing a 5-foot SLR?

The additional 2 feet comes from assuming that there will be a massive ice sheet collapse in West Antarctica. While this assumption formed the basis of a 2019 report DEP is relying upon, the fact is that every scientific study and paper that was published thereafter did not support this assumption. 

DEP knows this. They know there is no proven science justifying their position. But they also know it is easier to scare people and force them to retreat from the shore if they tell them that much of Cape May and other areas will be under water. It is part of their managed retreat strategy.

The elimination of coastal centers and placing a buffer on barrier islands will also make it harder to live and work at the shore. Coastal centers are recognition of the reality that much of barrier islands are already developed. Eliminating these centers, unless a town goes through an onerous State Plan process, will only harm our coastal economy, making it less likely people will want to or even be able to grow their businesses. 

Similarly, placing buffers on already developed barrier islands will not protect the environment, it will only make it harder to continue to live and work there.

We believe that the policy of the state should be one of resilience, not retreat. We should regulate to a 2-foot SLR, a protective, yet reasonable level from which we can adjust if needed. We should invest in our beaches and dunes, restore our coastal marshes, elevate buildings to appropriate levels, and study ways to protect against the inevitable storms to come.

But whatever we do, we should do it through public discussion, not hidden policies in long reports and dense regulations.

Editor’s Note: Ray Cantor is deputy chief government affairs officer at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. The views expressed are his own.

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