NJ Measure Creates Commission Tasked with Protecting the Jersey Shore
Adequately protecting the Jersey Shore from future storms and rising sea levels would be best achieved through a regional approach and not on a town-by-town basis, according to legislation that proponents hope can finally see some movement.
The measure, introduced in late March by Democratic Assemblyman Reed Gusicora, would establish a 19-member New Jersey Coastal Commission to be the overarching authority on major projects and decisions related to shore protection and enhancement along the coast of Atlantic, Cape May, Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
"New Jersey’s shore area is a vital component of the economy, welfare, and cultural landscape of the state and the existing land use and environmental regulatory system cannot adequately protect the region," the bill reads.
The concept dates back decades to former Gov. Thomas Kean, and legislation creating a regional coastal commission was introduced a handful of times over the past few years. It last saw action in May 2013.
But with a new chief executive in place, and a growing awareness of the actual impacts of climate change, some experts in the field say now may present the best opportunity for the concept's success.
"You can start to talk about climate change in this state for the first time in eight years," said David Kutner, planning manager for New Jersey Future.
Kutner, who's been involved with towns' resiliency efforts since Superstorm Sandy in 2012, said natural hazards don't respect municipal boundaries and individual towns are typically equipped to address these kinds of issues on their own.
"You can't really address these issues at the local level without sometimes causing unforeseen damage to your neighbors," he added. "New Jersey's coast is complex. It's an ecosystem that requires coordinated and thoughtful measures to effectively address coastal hazards and climate change risks."
Polls released in December by the Monmouth University Polling Institute and the university's Urban Coast Institute found that 83 percent of coastal residents believe climate change is real. More than half said government should be doing more to deal with the impacts of sea level rise.
Tony MacDonald, director of the Urban Coast Institute, said while he supports the goals of Gusciora's proposal, there are already programs and authorities in place to address these pressing environmental issues — they just need to be revisited and reignited.
"I'm just not sure that we need this complex of an organization to try to develop another plan," MacDonald said.
The commission would consist of five municipal officials, five county officials and nine individuals considered experts in coastal issues.
The group would have jurisdiction over all beach erosion and shore protection projects, approvals related to applications for development, and the oversight of federal monies received for storm cleanup in the coastal commission area.