After nearly four decades, the Legislature is taking a look at updating the 1981 Shore Protection Plan.
It is about time, say conservationists, who note a lot has changed since the plan was adopted in the second term of former Gov. Brendan Byrne, who passed away earlier this year.
Sea-level rise, ever-more-intense storms, and shrinking salt marshes all demand an exhaustive reexamination of the plan to assess whether the state has the right priorities for protecting one of its most valuable assets — the Jersey Shore.
“We can’t rely on a plan 37 years old to truly protect our Shore,’’ said Sen. Vin Gopal, a Democrat who is sponsoring a bill (S-1333) that last week won approval from the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.
“The storms woke us up on how much we need to do to protect our vulnerable communities,’’ added Gopal. “It’s time to adapt and to change.’’
In giving the state Department of Environmental Protection two years to issue a comprehensive update to the plan, the bill directs the agency to incorporate planning and projections for sea-level rise and science-based risk analysis for resiliency planning.
Those factors were typically missing when the Christie administration took steps to rebuild the Shore after Hurricane Sandy, according to many environmentalists.
“We are heartened to see a new leadership that doesn’t treat climate change as a four-letter word,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.
Emil DeVito, manager of science and stewardship for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, noted back when the plan was drafted the consensus on sea-level rise was that it would run about one foot per century, but now projections are as much as three to five feet per century, maybe more. “That needs to be in the forefront of all the planning and design,’’ he said.
Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, lauded provisions in the bill directing the DEP to use risk analysis in determining where investments are made along the coastline.
“One of the lessons from Sandy are big beaches, good dunes, and healthy salt dunes help protect our communities,’’ Dillingham added.
The legislation requires the DEP to compile an inventory of all Shore protection initiatives, past and projected, as well as develop a five-year capital program for beach protection projects. The amended bill urges the state to evaluate land-use-management alternatives, including land acquisition to reduce risk along the Shore.
“We’ve come a long way,’’ said Greg Remaud, NY/NJ Baykeeper. “We need to bring our coastal planning into the 21st century.’’
Some of that planning, O’Malley argued, ought to consider establishing a coastal commission, an idea pushed unsuccessfully by former Gov. Tom Kean, but one that has been revived by some planning advocates. “We need to look at these issues within a regional framework,’’ he said.