Trenton — The official post-mortem on the massive damage to New Jersey Transit locomotives and passenger cars stored in low-lying yards during Hurricane Sandy points to continued vulnerability from extreme weather events. The state’s inability to adopt reliable plans is hampered by Governor Chris Christie’s political need to disclaim effects of climate change, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In contrast to New York where planning shielded its much greater MTA rail assets from Sandy-induced damage, New Jersey was caught flat-footed and suffered more than $120 million in losses from transit assets inundated in flood-prone storage areas. A review by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, released on Christmas Eve, found that New Jersey (NJ) Transit lacked:
- “Flood protection models to predict the impact of future monster storms on key facilities”;
- “Vulnerability assessments…and appropriate measures taken to mitigate potential threats”; and
- “Timely, accurate communications with the public during an emergency…”
Notably, the report did not find a shred of support for Gov. Christie’s explanation that problems stemmed from the action of a “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, the decision was approved at the highest levels of NJ Transit which did not have a coherent plan.
“As with other incidents, the reflex of Governor Christie is to implausibly dodge embarrassing incidents with self-serving bluster that does not stand up to scrutiny,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. “This $120 million blunder typifies a governing style that careens from screw-up to screw-up.”
In its response, NJ Transit appeared to accept the review’s analysis. Significantly, the agency stated:
“NJ Transit has contracted with a private weather service to provide modeling and flooding projections, and an outside engineering firm has developed storm surge maps for critical facilities.”
The response suggests that this type of planning cannot be done by the New Jersey state government. Despite a growing scientific consensus that climate change is causing sea level rise and more intense coastal storms, New Jersey is the only state in the Northeast without a climate change adaptation plan.
“For purely political reasons, the Christie administration remains in deep denial about climate change to the detriment of public safety,” Wolfe argued, noting that it makes little sense for NJ Transit to be the only state entity to develop its own private flooding models. “This sort of political posturing prevents New Jersey from being better prepared for the next Sandy.”
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