Trenton — Hurricane Sandy damaged hundreds of New Jersey Transit locomotives and passenger cars stored in low-lying yards, costing taxpayers more than $120 million, despite prior warnings of inundation risk. Since then, top state officials, led by Governor Chris Christie, have made a number of exculpatory statements that have turned out to be utterly false, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which points to three key official untruths.
In interviews, Christie has blamed the loss of one-third of the New Jersey (NJ) Transit stock on the actions of one “lower level manager that made the decision on the cars that you’re talking about, where they were placed. It was not vetted up the chain as it was supposed to be vetted up the chain.” In fact –
- Emails show that more than a dozen top NJ Transit executives, including Executive Director James Weinstein, were aware of the movement of stock into the storage yards that flooded;
- Weinstein, who Christie said did “an extraordinary job,” actually defended the move, saying “Keeping the trains in the yards was the best decision…” and
- Contrary to Christie’s statement that “Everyone else at NJ Transit executed that plan except for one guy,” there was no plan to be followed. The only relevant document NJ Transit could produce was a three-page memo that had no operational detail and could hardly be called a plan.
The second canard is that state transit officials had no warning and could not have anticipated the damage. As Christie said, “Jim Weinstein doesn’t have ESP” while Weinstein stated that “I can tell you decisions on where to keep our locomotives were sound, based on all the information we had at the time we had to make that decision…” but that ignores a $45,000 consultant report the previous spring warning that changing climate, including record storm surges, could significantly affect key NJ Transit assets. By contrast, New York heeded similar warnings and produced detailed plans that worked to shield much greater MTA rail assets from Sandy-induced damage.
The third whopper is “New Jersey was well prepared for Sandy,” per Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Martin. In fact, Christie has deep-sixed much of the state’s climate-related planning and closed the Office of Climate Change. Moreover, the state is still not well prepared for extreme weather events, such as Sandy. It lacks plans to protect water infrastructure and even up-to-date inundation maps, or a coherent rebuilding strategy to prevent similar damage from recurring.
“Governor Christie trying to pin this transit debacle on one unnamed low-level functionary is both laughable and typical,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting the Governor’s tendency to inaccurately scapegoat to rationalize embarrassments. “Make no mistake, specific warnings were ignored not from negligence but by deliberate choice precisely because they all stemmed from storm surge risks identified in climate change adaptation reports. Climate change has become a taboo topic for all Christie appointees due to his political posturing to appease tea party elements, regardless of the consequences to the State of New Jersey.”
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