In June, The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) announced that it would be consolidating the rules that determine how development occurs in coastal areas. These changes are being billed as administrative in nature, to streamline permitting and reduce paperwork. However, some of the changes proposed could have significant consequences for our coastal waters.
Staff Scientist Cassandra Ornell spoke at the first of three public hearings, held in Long Branch on June 25. She highlighted the fact that the proposal does not specifically address actions that will be taken in the permitting and development process to increase resiliency at the coast, and protect coastal communities from sea level rise and extreme storm events. To the contrary, several provisions in the new rules would allow more development in sensitive coastal areas, only increasing future risk. The ability to develop more properties on a single lot in shoreline coastal areas will not only endanger residents and their livelihoods, but increase polluted stormwater runoff, and further impact the quality of our coastal waters.
The rules also change several aspects of dredged material management. The conditions that determine maintenance dredging are being relaxed, so that dredging in areas that were last dredged long ago would now fall under the definition of “maintenance dredging,” and therefore be dredged back to historical levels. This change would allow for less restrictive dredging protocols in areas that are not currently used for navigation, and opens the way for new development in farther upstream areas. Similarly, time restrictions for dredged material management areas would be relaxed, thereby allowing historical sites that are now productive functioning wetlands that filter pollutants from the water and that may contain threatened or endangered species to potentially be reverted back to dredged material management areas.
Marina expansion and new development would be permitted (under specific conditions) in shellfish areas. Although these areas may be small, there is no limit in the law to how many of these areas can be developed, that is, there would be no limit to the amount of total shellfish area that would be lost. This change will impact water quality and further reduce already dwindling shellfish resources, as well as affect those who depend on the resource for a living.
At over 1,000 pages, the details of the rule changes are too numerous to mention. Clean Ocean Action and several other environmental organizations met with the NJDEP in July to gain further clarity about the proposed changes, and to discuss the potential implications of these changes. COA has since
and submitted extensive written comments on the rule proposal. Please stay posted for any updates.