“We support this (bill) in concept but it should be strengthened,” said David Pringle of Clean Water Action.
Specifically, Pringle and other environmentalists argued that the plan, which currently determines only how the DEP should support existing land-use regulations and where it should allocate its resources, needs to broaden its scope.
Instead of keeping a narrow focus on documenting specific projects and plotting a priority-ranking system for distributing funds, as it does now, conservationists said the plan should be rewritten to incorporate current research on climate change, sea-level rise, water-quality protection, storm-water runoff, green building, and the restoration of natural systems.
The bill, as written, merely asks the DEP to update its protection projects and revise its funding formulas.
“It looks at shore protection projects in a vacuum,” Tittel said.
“Unless this bill is amended we are going to perpetuate the failed policies of the past,” Tittel said. “We will be sending money and resources out to sea in the next storm.”
When asked about the cost to rewrite the plan, Spencer answered that nothing’s been calculated yet. However, she said, “The cost of not doing anything could be far greater.” Tittel indicated that the federal government will cover the entire cost if it’s written to President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant program. A Senate version of the bill has been pending in the Energy and Environment Committee since February, and a spokesperson for the DEP said the agency is reviewing the bill.
Committee members voted to release a bill that would prevent the commissioner of the DEP from waiving the need for a permit to grade or excavate a dune in all but the most time-sensitive emergencies. Under the current Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA), the commissioner may grant special permission to a public or private entity to make changes to dunes on its property. The bill seeks to repeal this provision.
Stacy McCormack of the clean-water advocacy organization American Littoral Society testified that, “Dune construction is a huge issue for flood mitigation,” and Tittel added that the Sierra Club considers this move to be long overdue.
“Even though CAFRA legislation calls for protection of dunes, those standards and protections are waived by the DEP commissioner all the time,” he said. “We believe this is an important loophole that needs to be closed.”
The bill passed by a vote of 5-1, with lone dissenter Schepisi saying, “I view it as trying to take away home-rule protections.”
The DEP is reviewing the bill; the companion Senate bill was released from committee in April by a vote of 3-2.
A bill to require certain public water system operators to directly alert customers about water-boil notices by phone, email, or text within 24 hours of a sewage spill or overflow passed unanimously out of committee. Immediately after Hurricane Sandy, many utility customers were not notified that sewage spills had rendered their water potentially unsafe to drink.
Committee members also passed a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D-Ridgefield) to give the NJ Meadowlands Commission authority to pursue flood-control activities.