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Should NJ prepare for 17% sea level rise risk? DEP says yes, some towns say no.

Should NJ prepare for 17% sea level rise risk? DEP says yes, some towns say no.

Money Island Properties

A house on Money Island in Downe Township is raised on pilings in August 2019. Mayor Bob Campbell says builders have already had to build high up, like this photo, in order to combat sea level rise per regulations. However, there's not much new building in the town anyway. 

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is proposing that towns prepare for a world of 5.1 feet of sea level rise by 2100, when compared to 2000. However, some local towns say it's too expensive and should have a phased approach. Acting Commissioner Shawn LaTourette and Chief Resilience Office David Rosenblatt explain on the Atlantic City Boardwalk near Melrose Avenue.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is strongly suggesting shore towns take steps now to prepare for sea levels to rise 5.1 feet this century.

Local governments oppose the suggested projects, saying they will be too costly for something that may never happen.

DEP acting Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said the proposal could be enacted sometime next year. The proposal also includes new regulations on carbon emissions from vehicles and energy production.

LaTourette, who was nominated Wednesday by Gov. Phil Murphy to be the permanent DEP commissioner, understands the resistance to the rules since they’re based on a model that might not happen.

“I think one of the things that can be difficult about climate change, and understanding and sort of internalizing it and what is that, what does it mean for the places you live or work or love to visit? ... And how do we get ready? Those are the questions that we’re trying to answer. And we want to equip our communities, and the public to be prepared,” LaTourette said.

The 5.1-foot number for sea level rise comes from the Rutgers 2019 Science and Technical Advisory Panel and is based on the amount of global warming expected under current global policies. Given this, there is a 17% likelihood this number is exceeded by the turn of the next century, with an 83% likelihood the totals aren’t reached.

Brigantine Mayor Vincent Sera says while he understands towns need to prepare for future flooding, “It just seems weird that we would create a regulation on something that may or may not happen.”

According to the report, there are three scenarios in the “likely range” by 2100. In addition to the 17% likelihood of 5.1 feet of sea level rise this century, there is a 50% likelihood of a 3.3 foot rise and an 83% likelihood of seas rising 2 feet. For shore towns, the DEP’s calculation of a 5-foot increase in sea level would translate to building structures higher, and higher costs passed onto the homeowner.

Tom Quirk, executive director of the New Jersey Coastal Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to flood mitigation on the Jersey Shore, said addressing flooding in shore communities is no longer an option.

“Whether you want it to be a priority item or not, Mother Nature has made it a priority item,” said Quirk, whose organization includes 31 municipalities and counties in the state.

LaTourette agrees the DEP has considered the middle possibility, not simply a best- and- worst-case scenario. For example, he said, the DEP is not acting based on a worst-case scenario (which has a 5% likelihood of occurring) of an 8.8-foot sea level rise by 2100.

“If we were to go with what some folks may think of as the real middle of the road, there’s a 50% chance that sea level would see a (3.3-foot rise). … But then we’re saying only half the people, only half the property, half the assets deserve to withstand that risk,” LaTourette said.

Shore towns, including Margate and Brigantine, have opposed the DEP proposal through resolutions.

At a recent council meeting, Brigantine’s Sera wondered why the DEP was adopting a plan to address the next 80 years.

Sea levels have risen about 19 inches in 110 years, Sera said.

“Most municipalities are required to do a master plan with a 20-to-30-year planning horizon, and this allows us to make reasonable changes over time,” he said. “We’re asking the DEP to do the same thing.”

LaTourette insists, though, that while the state is acting now, it is moving deliberately.

“We can’t wait, we need to pay for the future. But in doing that, we can’t punish ourselves today. The only way to start is slowly and carefully,” he said.

The Delaware Bay, which LaTourette described as “the most vulnerable part of the state right now,” also will come under the proposals to the DEP.

That doesn’t appear to surprise or worry Bob Campbell, mayor of Downe Township in Cumberland County. Campbell said out there that new construction already has to be built higher due to regulations. However, the town has seen roughly new 12 buildings in the past 10 years. 

David Rosenblatt, chief resilience officer and assistant DEP commissioner, stressed the DEP report will not dictate new rules but will “set up a framework for discussion with the public.”

“I want them to read this report and find themselves in there, see where they can contribute to the collective ideas that we will need to take this report and advance it to the next level,” Rosenblatt said.

The public will have the ability to comment on the proposals in the late spring or early summer, said LaTourette. Visit for updates on the meetings.

Contact Joe Martucci:


Twitter @ACPressMartucci

Contact CJ Fairfield:


Twitter @ACPress_CJ

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