New Jersey Exempts Flood of Projects From Flood Hazard Rules
DEP Confirms Flood Prevention and Stream Buffer Protection Loopholes
Trenton — After weeks of denial, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has quietly admitted that they created large loopholes in the recently adopted Flood Hazard regulations and the highly touted buffer requirements for exceptional water quality streams, according to agency documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, hundreds of projects will be grandfathered from the protections of the new Flood Hazard rules and “Category One” or C1 requirements of 300-foot stream buffers around sensitive rivers and lakes.
“These concessions will greatly worsen flooding and water quality problems that both Governor Corzine and DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson allegedly have made a priority and pledged to combat,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. “You can’t have an effective safety net if you keep carving holes in it.”
In June 2006 Governor Corzine was touring flooded areas by helicopter and declaring flood prevention a high priority. Similarly, Jackson defended strong DEP flood protection rules just last March 24, saying:
“Building affordable housing there [in flood zones] would be morally wrong.”
Nonetheless, new rules officially published just yesterday in the New Jersey Register enact gaping loopholes that would grandfather hundreds of projects that had previously obtained DEP permits or local land use approvals, as well as exemptions for pending projects.
Moreover, the Flood Hazard grandfather loophole is far larger in scope because these rules apply statewide to all streams including urbanized watersheds, while the C1 buffers only apply to a very small subset of waterways. A new “Fact Sheet” posted on the DEP website confirms both types of loopholes.
The central concept of the Flood Hazard or “stream encroachment” rules is to keep human development out of areas with high risks of inundation. These rules were strengthened on November 5, 2007.
“Keeping people from building in flood zones just makes common sense; consequently making all of these exceptions serves no one’s interests but the developers,” Wolfe added, pointing to recent devastating floods in New Jersey which gave rise to the rules. “The disheartening pattern is that DEP unveils a package of new protections with great fanfare and then allows legal termites to gnaw a maze of loopholes through the whole package.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability