New Jersey Future Planners Urge Residents in Flood Zones to Plan for Sea Level Rise

Aug 31, 2016
Photo by: Pat Johnson New Jersey Future planning manager David Kutner asks Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor residents to rate some ideas his group is evaluating for the NJDEP including buyouts and a special tax for those living in flood prone areas.

A Special Flood Hazard Zone Taxing District was the least popular option in a list of steps municipalities could take in the face of rising sea level; decreasing services or eliminating infrastructure investments to neighborhoods in flood zones was equally distasteful. Targeted buyouts of properties by the N.J. Department of Protection’s Blue Acres program seemed the least offensive option to a small group of residents who attended a public meeting called by New Jersey Future, a nonprofit government planning group.

The meeting was held at the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve in Tuckerton on Aug. 25.

The public information session drew about 20 residents. As New Jersey Futures’ project manager, David Kutner, floated the resiliency options on how best to retreat from a projected 1.4 foot increase in sea level (over 50 years) and the resulting possible disastrous storm-driven floods, those who have rebuilt, are still rebuilding or recovering from Superstorm Sandy four years later grew increasingly agitated.

New Jersey Future and the DEP have chosen Tuckerton borough and Little Egg Harbor Township for a pilot project, to “look at CAFRA (Coastal Area Facilities Review Act) or coastal zone management, through a risk-based lens.”

Of the 14 options suggested by New Jersey Future planners, many included more “retreat from the shore” plans, such as giving lifetime rights to those currently living in the floodplain that would dissolve when the owner died but would give the heirs a fair market price for the property.

Some other ideas: consolidating Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor to enable “regional response to regional risks”; establishing a “Sea Level Overlay Zone” that would extend the boundaries of the currently regulated floodplain and “provide for” property owners to relocate out of these areas; “transferring development rights” to redirect construction from flood areas to upland areas that would have to be rezoned for a higher density.

Other ideas up for comment are:

Restrict Rebuilding: prohibit redevelopment of storm-damaged structures in highly vulnerable areas or those that have repetitive losses.

Downzone: limit development and redevelopment to low-density/low-intensity uses.

Limit Building Size/Density: permit only smaller or more mobile structures that could be easily relocated.

Establish Rolling Easements/Increased Setbacks: ensure that wetlands, beaches, barrier islands or access along the shore moves inland as shores erode and/or sea levels rise with no shore armoring (bulkheads, etc.).

Increase Freeboard Requirements: increase required heights of construction consistent with sea level rise estimates and require site surveys to confirm pre-construction elevations.

Require Cumulative Substantial Damage accounting: establish a maximum payout of flood insurance based on the total of all claims beyond which no further assistance will be provided. (National Flood Insurance already does this.)

Disclosure Requirements: in all real estate transactions, all prospective buyers are made aware of potential flood risk in addition to floodplain boundaries.

Or a combination of the above.

New Jersey Future is a nonprofit group that works with government to “promote responsible growth in New Jersey, revitalize cities and preserve open space,” said Kutner.

It is also the group that helped secure a $2.1 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation to do shoreline restoration that includes dredging some lagoon areas to spread mud on the salt marshes.

The group has also been contracted by the DEP to evaluate coastal development patterns and risk projections in Tuckerton, Little Egg Harbor and Toms River to recommend alternative planning scenarios, adaptations and mitigation options intended to minimize or avoid future hazard risk, i.e. the above suggestions. “The planning scenarios and implementation strategies will form the basis for recommending changes that will ensure that NJDEP’s coastal regulations address coastal hazard risks municipalities throughout the state are likely to face in the future.”

To join in this public discussion, email and and let them know what you think of the suggestions or share any ideas on how to alleviate the future risk of sea level rise.

—Pat Johnson

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