Obama – Christie Embrace Ends Over Sandy Rebuilding

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Obama – Christie Embrace Ends Over Sandy Rebuilding

Feds Resilient Strategy Runs Counter to New Jersey Armor Plating Vulnerable Coast

Trenton — The political bear hug between President Barack Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in Hurricane Sandy’s immediate aftermath is breaking over fundamentally different approaches to rebuilding coastal infrastructure and planning for future storms, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In a report released this week federal authorities called for a “resilient” strategy that moves structures out of harm’s way while the Christie administration seeks federal dollars for rebuilding at-risk development and anchoring vulnerable infrastructure in place, in some cases with steel sheet pilings pounded into beaches.

The presidentially appointed Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force’s new report stresses the need to take climate change and sea level rise into account when charting disaster recovery. By contrast, Gov. Christie has dismissed climate change as a factor in the Sandy devastation as an “esoteric concern.”

More concretely, New Jersey rebuilding plans, which depend on federal funds, appear to run directly counter to the federal investment strategy. Questionable Christie rebuilding plans include –

  • A $40 million four-mile steel seawall 600 feet off the coast of Brick, New Jersey. The objective of this seawall is to protect a highway, Rte. 35, which was washed out by Sandy. Brick is at least the third coastal town for which the state has approved armoring of severely vulnerable barrier islands and eroded shore developments;
  • Gov. Christie’s call to build a new line of artificial dunes, which, even if a source of sand and money could be found to build them, would likely wash out to sea with the next big storm; and
  • Censored state coastal management reports in which the Christie Administration deleted prior warnings that “Reconstruction of residential development and the conversion of single family dwellings into multi-unit dwellings continues in hazardous areas” and a recommendation that “private development and redevelopment must be directed away from the hazardous areas.”

“Like King Canute, King Christie cannot hold back the seas no matter how much pork he piles on the beaches,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. “Armor plating indefensible positions will not make them safer in the next storm but may endanger lives of those deluded with a false sense of confidence.”

Former New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Mark Mauriello testified this week about this conflict between state and federal plans, pointing to the example of steel plating Brick:

“We’re a little bit drunk with all this money. It sort of makes you a little bit less concerned about what you do because there’s so much money, but we can’t lose sight of being smart on how we spend the money.”

Epitomizing this conflict is the promotional campaign featuring TV ads touting the return of tourism to Jersey shores, ending with Christie declaring “We’re stronger than the storm.”

“New Jersey has to be smarter than, not stronger than, the storm,” Wolfe added. “The science is telling us that these storms will only get stronger and deadlier. New Jersey needs to adjust rather than just resist.”


Look at new federal post-Sandy strategy

Compare the steel piling plan for Brick

View climate change vulnerability references pulled from Christie report

See state “Stronger than the Storm” commercial

Examine state unpreparedness to handle Sandy risks

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

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