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Feds Should Change Gov. Christie’s Rebuilding Plan

Date : Thu, 11 Apr 2013 11:47:01 -0400

For Immediate Release
March 29, 2013 Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Feds Should Change Gov. Christie’s Rebuilding Plan FEMA has now received the Governor’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan (CDBGDRA Plan) for rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy.The Sierra Club is calling on FEMA to change the Governor’s plan so it can do a better job in rebuilding our coast and protecting the environment.This plan is supposed to be the template for rebuilding our coast and protecting us from future storms.Instead the plan itself has a lot of vague language, no standards, and no accountability.The plan does not adequately reflect President Obama’s Executive Order on Sandy rebuilding or FEMA guidelines.Sierra Club is calling for changes to help towns do better local planning and coordinate on regional planning.The Club is also calling for standards on green buildings and energy efficiency.

"We are calling on FEMA to change the plan submitted by Governor Christie to help New Jersey rebuild in a more environmental sound and sustainable way.The Christie plan does not do anything to address sea level rise, climate change, or green buildings-key pieces of rebuilding our coast resiliently and more sustainable.It is really more of the same and it needs to have clear standards and policies.Otherwise we will be vulnerable to future storms, wasting taxpayer money and putting people back in harm’s way," said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club. There is no funding for buyouts to move people out of harm’s way.Instead there is funding to give incentives for people to stay in areas that have been devastated, up to $10,000. It seems that the administration is more concerned about people rebuilding even if they get flooded again and it costs us more money down the road. We need a plan for the coast to identify the most vulnerable areas and where the buyout program should be focused. We also could set up a Transfer of Development program to move people from high hazard areas to other areas in the same community or local foreclosed housing. There is no planning involved whether for infrastructure or rebuilding.There is no mention of any programs or even mapping to deal with sea level rise, climate change, or adaptation and mitigation for those impacts.No mention to coordinate efforts between municipalities and government agencies on rebuilding shared infrastructure.As we rebuild, it is an opportune time for municipalities to look at consolidating services and key infrastructure and to do regional planning around key infrastructure such as sewer lines.There is no planning for pulling back from environmentally sensitive areas.The report does not include plans for restoring natural systems and adding dunes along our coast.

"This report does not call for better planning, dealing with sea level rise and climate change, buying out flood prone properties, or rebuilding natural systems. Instead we are concerned that it is going to let New Jersey make the mistakes of the past, maybe slightly elevated.Not only is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome insanity but even worse it wastes tax payer money and puts people in harm’s way," said Jeff Tittel. The Action Plan is soft language without any real standards.There is no accountability or matrix to report against and show results. There is language saying we should do certain things but there are no standards or guidances and then there are waivers from the loose language that is provided.There are loopholes such as the plan states no funds can be used in special flood hazard areas under most current FEMA maps but is allowed if they minimize harm.This is a loophole even in high hazard areas- we are allowing people to rebuild in some of the most dangerous and flood prone areas of the state.Things have to be "feasible and cost effective" which is not defined and could mean anything.

"The report itself is filled with fuzzy language, has no standards for rebuilding or even measures of performance.It has enough loopholes and waivers to put the next storm surge through it.We are also concerned that there is no transparency or accountability with the whole program," said Jeff Tittel. There is no transparency or accountability.Rebuilding will be overseen by the czar who reports only to the Governor. There are no standards for rebuilding using green building codes or improved energy efficiency.It says we should follow existing codes but those codes do not include standards for improving energy efficiency or green building standards.There are no standards for including green or blue roofs or retrofitting stormwater basins.We believe the DCA should minimally require the adoption of the 2012 International IECC codes and the ICC Green Building Standards.The DCA must also require all buildings meet Energy Star tier three New Jersey Climate Choice Standards.Commercial buildings should meet LEED Silver standards and at least 20% above the ASHRAE 2010 rules, which would bring it in line with the 2013 rule that is coming out in September. There needs to be a prohibition against municipalities using eminent domain for a private purpose in rebuilding efforts.There needs to be an open bid system on contracts as well as restrictions on pay-to-play practices.We are concerned the action plan can be used to push out middle and working class families and gentrify our coast. We need reasonable limits placed on eminent domain to ensure our coastal communities are still affordable for families that have lived and vacationed here for generations. The report itself was written behind closed doors by a select few with no input from the environmental or housing communities.The report is a lot of generalities with few specifics. The plan does not address the need for improvements to the grid including renewable energy and distributive generation. The plan promotes Gov. Christie’s Emergency Order on the FEMA maps that are in question due to their voluntary nature.It also promotes his ACO on rebuilding without permits in the same place which could jeopardize future FEMA funding and rebuilding by permit by rule without any proper review.New Jersey’s Flood Hazard Area rules allow for building one foot above the 100 year flood line where FEMA recommends 2 feet above free board.We recommend implementing the FEMA standard since it is more protective and will help address potential mistakes in mapping. The report mentions $21 billion in unmet need is required to rebuild or fix infrastructure on top of FEMA provided money but does not go on to lay out what that infrastructure is, where it is, or if it will be retrofitted for the future impacts of climate change.There is no funding mechanism identified for these improvements. Rebuilding our coast with so many different municipalities facing many of the same difficult problems needs to be done in a coordinated fashion so that the actions of one town do not impact the town next door.Rebuilding presents an opportunity for better regional planning and coordination between municipalities and this Plan does not promote that coordination or level of planning.At a minimum a council or taskforce should be established to help put the pieces back together for our coast and flood damaged areas.

"New Jersey seems to be heading in the wrong direction while New York is moving forward in the right direction.They have an open and transparent process that includes the community, provides money for buyouts, and addresses climate change," said Jeff Tittel. "The irony is most people think Gov. Christie is doing the right thing on rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy while no one is giving Gov. Cuomo credit. He is the Governor that is actually leading while Gov. Christie goes on David Letterman."

New York Does It Right These policies are in stark contrast to New York.New York is mapping sea level rise and climate change, putting in place programs for adaptation and mitigation, and putting $350 million towards buyouts.Their process is transparent and has standards for green buildings and renewable energy.The New York plan calls for community involvement in planning for rebuilding in impacted neighborhoods. They are also setting up an infrastructure bank to pay for improvements.They have a plan to retrofit critical infrastructure for sea level rise.

Jeff concluded, "Since the Governor will not change the plan, FEMA needs to since they are investing billions in New Jersey.We need FEMA to do their job and require the Christie administration to do its job better in rebuilding our coast."

Kate Millsaps
Conservation Program Coordinator
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
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Received on 2013-04-11 08:47:01

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