Sea-Level Rise Could Permanently Flood Parts of New Jersey

Tom Johnson | December 7, 2016 | Energy & Environment
Say so long to the Jersey Shore, arcades and all, half of Hoboken, and the Teterboro Airport — for starters

sea level rise
With sea-level rise accelerating, policies that focus primarily on the effects of storm surge fall short of adequately addressing the long-term threat of permanent flooding, according to a new study.

Parts of the tri-state region, including many areas in New Jersey, are at risk of being permanently inundated by sea-level rise, which already is beginning to affect some communities and critical infrastructure, according to the report from the Regional Plan Association.

Painting a dire picture of what will happen if and when sea level rises by as much six feet early in the next century, the report, Under Water: How Sea Level Rise Threatens the Tri-State Region, suggests difficult choices must be made about what to protect and where to let nature to reclaim the land.

The conclusions, and a recommendation to implement the 2015 International Paris Accord to limit future greenhouse-gas emissions, are similar to those drawn by other studies done recently that warn about the impact of sea-level rise on the state and region. President-elect Trump vowed to cancel the Paris agreement in the fall campaign.

The communities and infrastructure most at risk in New Jersey are those located in bay areas, including the Raritan and Barnegat, and near tidal estuaries, such as the Hackensack Meadowlands and the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers, the study said. With 50,000 residents, Hoboken faces the prospect of half of them living in neighborhoods that would be permanently flooded should sea levels rise by six feet, as projected early in the next century.

Nearly all Little Ferry and Moonachie would be permanently flooded under that scenario, and more than half of Kearny’s residents would face the same problem, according to the report. Other areas facing permanent flooding would be Hazlet, Keansburg, Middletown, Sayreville, South River, and Woodbridge.

The same threat faces many residents in the Barnegat Bay and Toms River areas, the report said, as do many places that form the iconic postcard images of the Jersey Shore.

“At six feet of sea level rise, the story of the Jersey Shore is the loss of the arcades, boardwalks, amusement parks and sands that fuel New Jersey’s tourism industry,’’ the report noted.

That is worst-case scenario, but the report warns that the region could see at least one foot of sea-level rise by 2050, possibly as soon as the 2030s. Three feet could be realized by the end of the century, maybe as soon as the 2080s, the report said.

The barrier beach and back bay communities of the Jersey Shore and Long Island’s south shore — both hard hit by Hurricane Sandy — are among the most difficult to protect. Many could begin to be affected by a sea-level rise of one foot, and nearly all by six feet. Most will need some combination of elevated structures, moving to higher ground, or transitioning to seasonal communities, according to the study.

“While many policies in place today will help us weather these storms, most won’t eliminate the threat of sea-level rise or help our communities adapt to permanent flooding in the long run,’’ said Tom Wright, president of RPA.

Beyond the challenges facing residential areas, some of the region’s most critical infrastructure, including its airports, are in areas that are the most threatened. As little as one foot of sea-level rise has the capacity to permanently flood Teterboro Airport, the report noted.

Other threatened infrastructure includes Hoboken Terminal and the PATH lines, as well as the region’s waterfront wastewater and energy generation plants. The latter were heavily flooded during Sandy, knocking out more than 90 wastewater plants in New Jersey, and shutting down northern oil refineries, causing widespread gas shortages.

The report called for more aggressive efforts by federal, state, and local officials to make the region more resilient to storms, a process underway, and for more funding and planning to address sea-level rise, which environmentalists have criticized as being lacking on the Jersey side of the Hudson River.