Op-Ed: Let’s get New Jerseyans back to work with natural infrastructure investment

'Restoring the natural infrastructure of the Delaware River Basin through the American Jobs Plan will…build a better economy while working toward a cleaner, healthier and safer environment for all of us’
Collin O’Mara and Eric Stiles

President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan has the potential to transform our crumbling infrastructure into jobs. From replacing lead drinking water pipes in our urban areas to transportation, clean energy and natural resources, Biden’s historic proposal will immediately pay off in the form of good-paying jobs and sustainable economic growth and a clean environment for decades to come. The plan would be an absolute game-changer for the Delaware River, one of the region’s crown jewels that supplies more than 13 million people with drinking water, unparalleled natural beauty and recreational opportunities, and is home to critical fish and wildlife resources.

Lawmakers, including Gov. Phil Murphy, are already rolling up their sleeves and working with the White House to ensure the plan includes the resources for the Delaware River Basin to tackle the restoration and resilience projects needed to secure this founding river for future generations.

The American Jobs Plan is urgently needed in New Jersey and across our region. We all know how much pain and suffering has been caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic, especially to frontline workers and people of color. With our tri-state region seeing some of the highest caseloads of COVID-19 at the early stages of the pandemic, and its corresponding impact on our economy, it is only fitting that our region is targeted for significant job-creating investments.

One way that the Biden administration is proposing to put folks back to work is through the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps (CCC). This type of program, modeled after and improving upon the Depression-era CCC, would train Americans for skilled jobs, correct past environmental injustices, and support the full range of restoration and resilience jobs our nation needs now more than ever. Programs like this are a way to train local workers with a new skill set, while providing good-paying jobs restoring and conserving the habitats, wetlands and public lands in New Jersey. Fortunately, New Jersey’s congressional delegation is hard at work prioritizing investing in the region.

Ecological restoration, water infrastructure

The Delaware River Basin is also poised to benefit from significant proposed investments in ecological restoration and water infrastructure. The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, created by Delaware Sen. Tom Carper and former New York Rep. Chris Gibson, has an estimated $150 million worth of projects that could be implemented and create jobs over the next five years. This program provides funding for natural infrastructure projects — forests, wetlands, dunes, reefs and others — to prevent erosion, flooding and pollution.

Since its inception in 2018, the restoration program has supported 90 on-the-ground projects totaling $16.86 million in federal grants and leveraged an additional $34 million of private resources. This funding supports jobs and tangible environmental improvements — for example, the restoration of the Atlantic white-cedar habitat in the Maurice River and Rancocas Creek watersheds. The project will restore 70 acres of habitat, fostering a range of co-benefits associated with climate resiliency, including enhancing fish and wildlife habitat and water quality to combat declining habitat. Another project will restore 10 acres of wetlands in the Upper Paulins Kill watershed through invasive species management and reforestation. The project will improve habitats for threatened and endangered species and also be utilized as a demonstration site for community-driven conservation practices.

Investing in the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program as part of the infrastructure package will create jobs where we need them most, while expanding our outdoor economy and boosting climate resiliency. In fact, the Delaware River Basin has at least $55 million worth of shovel- ready infrastructure projects ready to go right now, including restoring wildlife refuges, expanding environmental education programs, and addressing flooding and sewer overflows with green infrastructure.

Restoring the natural infrastructure of the Delaware River Basin through the American Jobs Plan will put thousands of New Jerseyans back to work and build a better economy while working toward a cleaner, healthier and safer environment for all of us. We urge Congress to ensure America’s founding waterway isn’t left behind.

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