More money is needed to protect the Jersey coast, advocates say
In response to the severe New Jersey coastal storms of 1991, the state legislature decided, a year later, to establish a $15 million dedicated Shore Protection Fund. Its purpose: protect public and private property and infrastructure from coastal storm damage, erosion and shoreline migration.
In 1998, the annual fund was increased to $25 million, where it stands today.
But in the ongoing aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and with the cost to protect the shore increasing, it's simply not enough, says Margot Walsh, executive director of the Jersey Shore Partnership.
The not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization advocates for stable funding for coastal protection and beach replenishment on the state and federal levels.
Jersey Shore Partnership met with the state Department of Environmental Protection and has agreed to launch a campaign to increase shore protection funding. Proposed legislation would increase the amount dedicated to the fund, from realty transfer fees, from $25 million to $50 million. Walsh says she is anxious to have the bills come before the full legislature for vote.
Using data provided by the New York and Philadelphia Army Corps of Engineers and the DEP, a Cost Projection Summary for 2016 through 2025 concluded that the 10-year annual average cost for New Jersey for shore projection projects is actually $50.6 million — twice the $25 million.
"New Jersey is the most densely populated state and reflects the national demographic where 50 percent of the population lives within 50 miles of the coast," Walsh said. She added that the Jersey coast is also a destination of choice for thousands of out-of-state visitors.
Therefore, "the coastal infrastructure is our state's first line of defense in protecting people, property, ecosystems and the tourism economy from devastating storms," Walsh said.
With increased funding, the money will help protect the cost-sharing partnership with the government, protect the $20 billion tourism economy and provide revenue for projects in demand, she said.
But without this increased, Walsh says, all those projects in the pipeline could not be fulfilled.
The establishment of the fund provided the opportunity for a cost-sharing partnership with the federal government, which has typically has provided 65 percent funding for beach replenishment projects — the rest is provided by the state and local municipality.
But Walsh said without an increase in funding to $50 million, the state and communities wouldn't be able to meet their obligations under that partnership — putting the federal funding in jeopardy.
The Army Corps of Engineers could then reallocate its funding to do work in another state instead.
Walsh says keeping our coast protected and safe, benefits all New Jerseyans and helps keep property taxes in line.
"We have chosen over decades to protect our coast. We have to prepare realistically for the future so we can address needs now and not have to wait until a storm wipes us out," she said.
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