Trenton – New Jersey's shore and ocean waters are in serious jeopardy from an array of threats driven by unbridled development, according to testimony delivered today before the Senate Environment Committee by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Erosion, algae blooms, excess bacteria causing beach closures and bans on fish and shellfish harvests are among the human-induced woes that the State Legislature must address.
“The Legislature needs to resist pressure from development interests and act now to strengthen our weak coastal protection laws,” stated Bill Wolfe, Director of New Jersey PEER, who delivered the testimony. “Our current approach is to allow castles to be built on the sand, and predictably washed away with devastating environmental, as well as economic consequences, before allowing them to be re-built as if nothing had happened.”
Among the weaknesses of current coastal protection laws highlighted by New Jersey PEER are:
- Loopholes that permit unrestricted construction of developments with fewer than 25 units. One consequence of this threshold is that unregulated developments, following the path of least resistance, are proliferating and fragmenting critical natural resources and creating a patchwork land use pattern, subjecting the shoreline to the proverbial death by a thousand cuts;
- The current right to rebuild storm/flood damaged structures encourages new development in high hazard areas and flood zones by allowing people and property to remain in harm’s way. Federal flood insurance program data reveal that New Jersey is one of the nation's worst states in terms of multiple filings of claims for the same property; and
- The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is doing a poor job protecting against salt water intrusion, water quality impairment and loss of sustainable water supplies. For example, due to DEP’s failure to implement cumulative impact thresholds, saltwater intrusion forced the construction of a costly $5 million desalination plant on Cape May peninsula. Few shore residents are aware that DEP allows private water purveyors to blend polluted groundwater with cleaner water to attain drinking water standards to meet growing summer peak demand.
As a consequence, Barnegat Bay is showing signs of acute ecological distress and potential collapse, due to high pollutant loadings from loss of freshwater replenishment displaced by runoff from DEP-approved development. More than 30% of natural freshwater flows to the Bay are now used by development and then discharged to the ocean by massive regional sewage treatment plants.
New Jersey PEER is advocating that the Legislature immediately take remedial steps, including adoption of adaptation strategies for the effects of global warming, strengthening emergency evacuation plans, establishing buffer zones around important habitats, expanding coastal zone boundaries to protect headwaters of critical coastal watersheds and creating a Delaware Bay Regional Planning Commission.
“For our critical coastal areas, it literally is becoming now or never,” Wolfe added. “The Jersey Shore is in danger of being completely carved up like the goose that laid the golden egg.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability