by Andrew Willner
The people of New Jersey have come through a hard time; Hurricane Sandy devastated our communities, businesses and homes. I want to thank you for your strong leadership through it all. Your swift action in ordering a mandatory evacuation saved lives. Your bipartisanship resulted in a comprehensive, coordinated state and federal response.
However, I am disappointed in your failure, so far, to lead us in preparing for the dangers ahead. The Atlantic Ocean continues to rise and warm, making hurricanes stronger, and every storm surge more harmful. Irene and Sandy were back-to-back warnings. Now is the time to prepare for the fiercer weather of the very near future.
Now is the time to launch an innovative N.J. Coastal Commission to address climate change and oversee the rebuilding effort. This body would assure the future safety of our communities, and the protection of our coasts against intensifying storms.
The N.J. Coastal Commission would use the best science and technical knowledge to implement climate change adaptation strategies. It would help us rebuild smarter, strengthening building codes, and generating strategies for flood-proofing homes, towns, and vital but vulnerable buildings, such as hospitals, police and fire stations.
The Commission would make sure our nuclear plants and other energy infrastructure; harbors, roads, railways, and airports; drinking water supplies; and wastewater treatment plants were built to withstand more violent storms.
It would oversee the re-mapping of our coasts to anticipate new trouble spots, suggesting “hard infrastructure,” such as sea walls, and “soft infrastructure,” like expanded coastal Islands, oyster reefs, dunes and greenbelts to reduce storm surges. It would help us to make the hard choices, retreating from the coast where necessary.
The N.J. Coastal Commission would create coastal resiliency and establish thorough storm emergency preparedness measures, anticipating and preventing future harm.
I also encourage you to re-engage with other Northeastern state governors in the Regional Green House Gas Initiative to address Irene, Sandy and the “new normal” which threatens us with more extreme storms. It is high time that our state took responsibility for our carbon contribution to climate change and made efforts to curb it.
We live in dangerous time, when “business as usual” will not suffice. That way leads to certain pain, peril and economic ruin. The more visionary path, to A Bright Green Future for our state is far more challenging. It is a road we must build as we walk it.
The most recent storms to impact New Jersey harshly pointed out flaws in our current development patterns. Hurricane Sandy, for all its devastation, was just a Category 1 storm, while 2011’s Hurricane Irene was “only” a tropical storm. The landfall of far more ferocious, future storms is not only possible, but likely.
The unprecedented destruction from Hurricane Sandy and the public policy challenges of its aftermath make this a critically important transformative period in New Jersey history, and a singular moment to demonstrate leadership. I urge you to seize this opportunity to initiate bold action resulting in lasting protections for New Jersey’s economy, environment, energy, and equity.
As the NY/NJ Baykeeper, I learned to see the New Jersey/New York Bioregion not as a collection of states or towns, competing industries or interests, but as a unified place. When seen from space our Bioregion is without seams. Its green mountains and hills feed thousands of tributaries, flowing into our magnificent estuary and the sea. Ours is a vulnerable state worth protecting, but protection now will take courageous leadership.
Andrew Willner is a sustainability consultant and has been an organizer and activist for the NJ/NY bioregion for more than 25 years. See the full letter sent to the Governor at: www.andrewwillner.com