Baykeeper Reflections Post-Sandy

While we know that so many people in New York and New Jersey are dealing with the devastating impacts of Hurricane Sandy, we also know that we need to start thinking about the future--before the next hurricane or other natural disaster occurs. At NY/NJ Baykeeper, our focus has not changed as a result of Hurricane Sandy, but our core values are now more important than ever.

As always, in the State of New Jersey, we should:

Notify: The general public needs timely notification of sewage spills, including information about the risks to public health and instructions for safe clean up of flooded areas. New York recently adopted a sewage notification law that would require timely notification of sewage spills to the general public. New York City has already implemented an email and text service to provide daily alerts to residents of high bacteria levels in certain waterways. It took New Jersey four days to notify residents that millions of gallons of raw sewage were washing into waterways and flooded streets. New Jersey should pass the Combined Sewer Notification bill (S.831/A.2852) in order to guarantee public notification when these spills occur.

Protect: Urban waterfront and infrastructure are just as vulnerable to storms and flooding as the beachfront. Wastewater facilities, oil tank farms, chemical plants and other industrial sites must be more resilient to storms and flooding. At Baykeeper, we will continue to acquire and restore buffer zones along the waterfront. New Jersey should secure a dedicated source of funding for the Blue Acres and Green Acres programs that both leverage funds to acquire lands in flood-prone areas.

Restore: Building up along the edges of the Region’s waterways sacrificed our natural protections from storm surges: wetlands, open space buffers, oyster and mussel beds, and barrier islands. New Jersey should lift the ban on oyster reef research and restoration in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary and allow this important scientific work to progress. Regionally, we need to prioritize shoreline and wetlands restoration projects that soften the coast and protect against flooding.

While we recover from Hurricane Sandy, the State of New Jersey should:

Investigate: How did Wastewater Treatment Plants and other industrial facilities plan and prepare for the storm, specifically on protecting infrastructure? How can these facilities prepare better and are protocol revisions needed? Should the public have been informed about the risk of sewage spills before the storm even hit? What are the plans for better public outreach in the future? The public should be involved in the post-Hurricane Sandy review process, so we can better understand the facilities’ disaster-preparedness and communications protocols and recommend improvements.

Access: The Public Trust Doctrine protects the public’s right to access tidally-flowed waters. As public monies are invested in rebuilding after the Hurricane, the public’s right to access must be protected. In New Jersey, we must re-examine NJDEP's newly adopted public access rules—that offer no protection for public access--in light of billions of dollars in taxpayer money that will be spend to rebuild the beaches and waterfront.

Plan: Let's take the opportunity now to honestly assess how and where to rebuild. We need to make tough decisions about the future of waterfront land use. Green infrastructure, especially in NJ, is absolutely essential to better managing stormwater and we must aggressively incorporate it as we move forward to prepare for the next storm.

Acknowledge: The science shows that climate change is real and extreme weather events will continue to strike New Jersey. Without acknowledgement of this at the state level we will not see good policy strategy and important decisions about how we spend our resources acted upon. Now is the time for leadership as the region faces tough choices about putting people in harm’s way.