The Governor’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan (CDBGDR Action 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. Sierra Club is calling for changes to help towns do better local planning, coordinate regional planning and standards on green buildings and energy efficiency.
The Action Plan does not help to rebuild our coast in a better, smarter fashion. 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.
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. 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. The plan does not address flooding, water reuse, or retrofitting stormwater systems.
There is no local or regional planning involved for infrastructure or rebuilding or coordination of 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. Rebuilding needs to be done in a coordinated fashion so that the actions of one town do not impact the town next door. A council or taskforce should be established to help put the pieces back together for our coast and flood damaged areas.
The Action Plan does not address urban areas. The program actually hurts urban areas because they cannot elevate and disincentives redevelopment in our cities.
There is no funding for buyouts to move people out of harm’s way along the coast. The Governor has talked about a small buyout program for some inland communities.
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 are no standards, transparency, or accountability in the Action Plan. There is not even a report to show results. There are waivers from the loose language that is provided. There are even loopholes for high hazard areas. Rebuilding will be overseen by the czar who reports only to the Governor.
The plan does not adopt the most current energy efficiency and building codes. We could save as much as 25% more energy if updated standards are implemented. There are no standards for including green or blue roofs or addressing the need for improvements to the grid including renewable energy and distributive generation. The report mentions $21 billion in unmet infrastructure improvements, but does not outline what those projects are or how they will be funded.
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 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. The Governor wants to use a one foot elevation standard versus the FEMA two feet standard, which would save people 50% on flood insurance.
New Jersey seems to be heading in the wrong direction while New York is moving forward in the right direction. 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.
We can’t build better and smarter with a vague and weak plan. We hope the HUD secretary makes changes to this plan. Otherwise we will be wasting a lot of money and putting people back in harm’s way.