Text & Photos by K. Cecchini
If going down the shore is a rite of passage in New Jersey, then owning a piece of it is a dream. So how do you convince homeowners to return their seaside fantasy to Mother Nature before she sends the repo man?
Hurricane Sandy was the most devastating storm to lick away at beach front zip codes since 1962 from the Highlands to Cape May. With its winds and rains, Sandy also brought questions about the Jersey Shore’s future. And, although many homeowners rally to rebuild, Dr. Ben Horton of Rutgers University’s Marine and Coastal Sciences Department warned that the Jersey Shore’s vulnerabilities are increasing.
In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated a global mean sea level rise of over three feet by the end of the century. This change will largely be due to the greater volume of a warming ocean and melting glaciers. However, Dr. Horton said, sea level change is not uniform and New Jersey has other factors biting at its shoreline.
For instance, most of the shore’s real estate is low-lying and Dr. Horton said that the land’s height continues to decrease because of freshwater removal below the land’s surface. This allows the sea to overtake more of the land.
On the other hand, Mr. Miller said he was pleased at how well Governor Christie implemented NJAFM’s recommendations around the Raritan and Passaic Basins.
The first recommendation? Blue Acres.
Miller calls the voluntary Blue Acres program “a restart on life”. Through federal and local fund matching, Blue Acres offers to buy property in flood zones at pre-damage value. The land is then designated as a natural buffer for their communities in future flooding. Although it can be a difficult choice for most homeowners, the program has proven to be particularly successful in river communities. In fact, Miller hailed Mayor Verango and Consultant Jeff Ward for having made Wayne Township “the champion for buyouts in New Jersey”.
After Sandy, the state successfully promoted buyouts in inland towns like Woodbridge and most recently, Manville, but the program is still virtually nonexistent in coastal communities. Why perpetuate temporary fixes like sand dunes instead of removing people from vulnerable areas? Miller said that he believed the reason the state administration avoids the coastline is because of its perceived economic value as a vacation and investment community.
However, Blue Acres‘ Communication Director Andrea Friedman said that she believes that for the last two years while some seaside homeowners are interested, their municipalities have resisted the program. Union Beach is one such town; Sandy flooded more than half of its 2,200 homes and some families have yet to return, but Blue Acreshas made no inroads.
Are buyouts a ‘managed retreat’? They are often denigrated with this defeatist connotation; it’s something most Americans would call ‘un-American’. But Jerseyians might not take that for an answer. Perhaps handing the keys over to Mother Nature before she takes them is really ‘Jersey Strong’.