Recognizing the Need for – and Benefit of – Coastal Policy and Planning
By The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association
A new study has attempted to quantify the risks inherent in climate change from rising tides and stronger storms, as a means to encourage preservation of the natural resources that can help protect coastal ecosystems and communities.
It’s a refreshing way to reframe the coastal debate that, if prudent voices prevail, should be taken even further to guide future coastal policy and planning.
The study, outlined in an article published in the Nature Climate Change journal, cites the risk posed to the U.S. coastlines from higher seas and more severe storms many expect as a consequence of climate change, putting real numbers on the people and populations which could be at risk if projections turn into reality. The authors then posit how “natural” habitats – sand dunes, coral reefs, sea grasses, mangrove fringes, etc. – could offer significant coastal protections at a lower cost if they are not allowed to dwindle and die as seas rise and shorelines “harden.”
Using real numbers and actual science to frame this issue (which is too often debated with emotions and politics as the main drivers), is welcome, as is recognizing the value of the coast (such as 23 of the 25 most densely populated counties are coastal) and the need to better acknowledge the protective value of any coastal habitat that puts more distance between storm waves and upland infrastructure. Developing a Coastal Hazards Index that can graphically portray the county’s coastlines at greatest risk is also useful, quickly communicating both the breadth and severity of any area’s risk in a way the lay person can grasp.
But the presumption that the only choices are shoreline hardening or habitat preservation is too black and white for our real coastal world. Many coastal communities (and their governmental entities) have taken hardening out of the coastal toolbox, having lived through the destructive days of seawalls and groins as the lone coastal solution to sand loss. In some areas, coastal structures of any stripe are banned; in others, they are allowed only as part of an engineered solution that capitalizes on their strengths and mitigates their other impacts.
Also, the focus on preservation of existing habitats needs to be joined with a drive to restore lost habitats, so we don’t just draw a line in the sand policy-wise but work to replace any beneficial protections lost over time. And let’s add “wide beaches” as another appropriate coastal protection worthy of preservation and restoration, recognizing their value in keeping storm waves at bay and adding more elevation in response to rising seas. (The habitat benefit which wide beaches offer is just icing on the natural cake.)
Finally, every coastal professional can join in the study’s implied call for further research into the impacts and options in coastal protection – particularly work that balances the needs and demands of all coastal stakeholders in an effort to task science and sense to develop sustainable solutions in anticipation of whatever changes climate ends up blowing our way. The same measures that can protect coastal communities from storm damage will also build a buffer against any rise in sea level, allowing us to implement protections that address the inevitable (such as storms) as well as the unknown (such as rising seas).
A good first step is to acknowledge the need for and benefit of coastal protection, with the imperative that science (rather than emotion) leads the way. This study appears to be a good start.
Founded in 1926, the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association advocates for healthy coastlines by promoting the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org.
Voters Get No Say on Open Space Funding
By Michele S. Byers
New Jersey voters won’t get to vote this year on funding to preserve open space, farmland and historic sites, and to buy out flood-prone properties.
The New Jersey Senate met on Monday, July 29, in a rare summer session to act on a resolution that would have enabled voters to choose long-term open space funding.
But due to politics – including Senate Republicans backing away from earlier support of the bipartisan effort, reportedly at Gov. Christie’s request, and the Assembly’s reluctance to vote on the measure – the resolution fell two votes shy of the 24-vote “super majority” needed to move the measure forward.
The resolution still passed by a 22-8 simple majority, leaving the door open for a question on the November 2014 ballot.
It’s a disappointment that the question won’t appear on this year’s ballot. Voters would have been asked to amend the state constitution to dedicate $200 million per year in sales tax revenues to preserve open space for the next three decades.
The 30-year funding period was chosen because experts from Rutgers University project that New Jersey will reach full build-out by mid-century. All of the state’s land will be developed, preserved or spoken for at that point.
New Jerseyans have a long history of supporting efforts to save land, and recent polling reinforced the overwhelming popularity of this program with New Jersey citizens.
Long considered a national model on land preservation, New Jersey is now in limbo. For one of the few times since the first Green Acres referendum in 1961, we’re without a source of funding to ensure clean water, farmland and parks preservation and wildlife habitat protection. The most recent referendum was passed in 2009, and all of that $400 million has been spent or allocated.
Preservation efforts will still limp along for the next year, as older existing projects are brought to completion. But few new state-funded projects will enter the “preservation pipeline” because of uncertainty about the program’s future.
That’s a shame, because approximately 1 million acres – or 20 percent of the state – remain unprotected and developable.
New Jersey has a critical need to preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of parks and open space, along with drinking water sources and natural buffers along coastal and inland waterways that will help prevent future flooding and storm damage. Studies have shown that every dollar invested in land preservation returns $10 in economic value to the state through nature’s “eco-services” like flood control and water filtration.
In addition, approximately 350,000 more acres of farmland must be preserved to maintain a viable agricultural industry. Agriculture is the Garden State’s third largest industry – and the reason it got its nickname – with more than 10,000 farms generating at least $1 billion dollars annually.
Thank you to the senators who supported the resolution, especially Senate President Steve Sweeney and the resolution’s sponsors, Senators Kip Bateman and Bob Smith. Special thanks are also due to Senator Diane Allen who, with Bateman, crossed party lines to support the measure.
Land preservation benefits ALL New Jersey residents, and has never before been a partisan issue. Please urge the Assembly to bring the resolution (SCR160) to a vote this year so voters get the chance in 2014 to secure long-term funding for clean air and water, parks, wildlife habitat, farmland and historic sites.
To find your Assembly representatives, go to the state’s legislative search page at www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp.
And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
Two River Moment
Oops! It was 1961 and the distinctive Reussille Jewelers’ clock on Broad Street, Red Bank, was apparently hit by a car and knocked to the sidewalk.