By Beverly Entin
Life in New Jersey has been impacted by extreme weather over the course of the past few years. We’ve dealt with record high and low temperatures, major blizzards, hurricanes, tornados and more. How do you deal with impacts on communities, ecosystems, governance, public understanding, economics and other factors?
The Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast (BCONE) brought together a panel of experts to help us delve into the issues that affect us all. All of the panelists agreed that things are ‘heating up in New Jersey’. However, we also heard about disagreements on the best science for developing policies, the need to provide towns with the necessary tools and resources for success, discussions on how to address vulnerable, high risk communities, and the need for definitive guidance so the State of New Jersey and local communities can make long-term decisions which will result in economically stable communities.
Dave Rosenblatt, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP’s) State Chief Resilience Officer, presented highlights from NJDEP’s Climate Change Resilience Strategy. This strategy is based on Rutgers University’s June 30, 202 NJ Scientific Report on Climate Change which predicts sea level rising by 5.1 feet by 2100. The Rutgers’ report lead to interesting discussions on the validity of developing long-term plans based on a single study which will have a significant economic impact on businesses and communities.
Mike Cerra, Executive Director, League of Municipalities, reminded us that local municipalities have the difficult challenge of balancing residential and commercial issues along with property rights. At the same time these municipalities are dealing with limited budgets and struggling to keep property taxes low.
Ray Cantor, Vice President Government Affairs, New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA), discussed the NJBIA’s concerns with the guidance provided by the NJDEP. NJBIA has had their own Climate Change study performed which they have recently shared with NJDEP & Rutgers. NJBIA believes the Rutgers report is not using the best science and overstating the future climate change effects, though they recognize climate change is occurring. To ensure a thriving economy, decisions on planning and how best to use limited economic resources need to be made based on accurate scientific data.
Peter Kasabach, Executive Director, New Jersey Futures, highlighted the fact that all of our panelists agree that the climate is changing and will have an impact on our communities. Our panelists also agree on the goal to reduce harm to our communities with policies that are as cost effective as possible. The big questions is “How?"
Under new Municipal Land Use Laws, municipalities will need to perform a Vulnerability Assessment and develop a Resiliency Plan that will be incorporated in the community’s Master Plan. Municipalities will need definitive guidance and assistance to develop these plans.
Rick Shoyer, President, BCONE, discussed Brownfield Redevelopment objectives and benefits. We need to shift our focus to resilient building designs that are sustainable, economical and can withstand natural and manmade disasters. We also need to consider how global manufacturing and industry practices impact our environment in New Jersey.
Moderator Joanne Vos, Maraziti Falcon, LLP, kept the discussion going by challenging the panelists with difficult questions and issues. We were reminded of the stark reality that it may not be economically feasible to fix all of the destruction from climate change with engineering.
Our seashores, boardwalks, and communities may look different in the years to come. Joanne Vos asked the panelist, “will my daughter be able to pull the handle on a slot machine in Atlantic City?" We don’t really know the answer to that question.
Though no final decisions were made, open dialogue sharing different perspectives and viewpoints is the key to making progress. BCONE thanks our panelists and attendees, and we look for many more conversations in the future as we all agree Climate Change is occurring and we have the same goal.
As Dave Rosenblatt reminded us at the start of today’s presentation with a quote from Ernest Hemingway “The Earth is a fine place worth fighting for.”
We welcome you to share your comments, thoughts and views at BCONE’s events throughout the year. Please remember to check our website for updated announcements webinars, conferences, opportunities to network (eg. hikes, tours, wine tastings), and to support the Charlie Bartsch Scholarship Fund.