Christie Sandy Hazard Reduction Plan a Contradictory Mess
No Public Input or Legislative Review of Belated Plan to Qualify for Federal Funds
Trenton — The Christie administration has posted a sprawling post-Sandy Hazard Mitigation Plan that conflicts with its own announced projects, ignores known threats and contains numerous flaws, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER is calling for legislative hearings on the plan, which was required as a prerequisite for significant federal infrastructure aid but was prepared by a private consultant with no outside review.
All states must have a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-approved hazard mitigation plan to be eligible for disaster recovery assistance and mitigation funding. Although it is due by the end of March, New Jersey did not release its Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) until last week. Even a cursory review suggests a number of fundamental flaws, including:
- The plan condemns the hard anchoring of seawalls, jetties and groins that New Jersey is already building on eroding coastal stretches, such as the $40 million steel seawall to “protect” the $265 million reconstruction of highly vulnerable Rt. 35 which was washed out by Sandy storm surge;
- While finally acknowledging the reality of climate induced sea-level rise, it offers no plan to address flooding that will inundate some of the most populous Jersey Shore stretches in severe back bay flooding along Barnegat and Raritan Bays, the areas hardest hit by Sandy. A Rutgers professor has called back bay flooding “New Jersey’s Achilles heel”; and
- The plan is studded with obligatory references to scientific findings on the effects of climate change but does not integrate that science into state planning or changes in building codes, project designs, regulations, or plans to spend billions of federal aid dollars.
“This plan looks like it was put together at the last minute by a sleep-deprived college student furiously cutting and pasting regardless of whether it is coherent,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting, for example, that the report touts the role of the Office of Coastal Management which no longer exists after Gov. Christie abolished it. “In order to qualify for federal funds, the Christie administration is forced to give lavish lip service to climate change but its rhetoric is disconnected from its actual plans.”
Similar deficiencies have prompted the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Office of Inspector General to expand its audit and enforcement efforts on New Jersey’s plan for spending nearly $1.5 billion in federal reconstruction aid, partly in response to a PEER complaint. In addition, the state’s muddled criteria for distributing energy infrastructure grants to municipalities, where certain cities like Hoboken were mysteriously shortchanged, has sparked a separate legislative investigation.
The last-minute nature of this latest state plan has also precluded legislative or other outside scrutiny:
- The state is soliciting public comments by April 11, nearly two weeks after the plan will have been submitted to FEMA;
- Nor were any public hearings or outreach to solicit public input conducted in developing the plan; and
- The planning was outsourced to a private consultant who conducted invitation-only meetings.
“What is the point of soliciting public comment that will be utterly ignored?” Wolfe asked, pointing out that the same small band of officials and consultants who dragged out these previous plans that are now under question are at work here. “The process employed here typifies a governing style that is hyper-politicized, fiercely insular and ultimately utterly ineffective.”
Even with this latest plan, the maps for inland flooding still being used by New Jersey are more than 30 years old. They do not account for climate change, sea-level rise, storm surge or other factors brought to bear by Superstorm 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