Exactly one year after President Joe Biden, Gov. Phil Murphy, and other politicians toured flood-damaged Manville, a group of environmental and elected leaders urged immediate action to better protect New Jersey residents from the impacts of climate change.
Standing in front of a Manville home destroyed by Tropical Storm Ida, speakers at today’s press conference stressed that New Jersey residents need stronger protections from the devastating impacts of more frequent and powerful storms: physical harm, loss of life, property damage, and financial hardship.
They urged the Murphy Administration to move forward with its New Jersey Protecting Against Climate Threats (NJPACT) initiative that would upgrade flood hazard guidelines and improve stormwater controls to keep people and property out of harm’s way before the next storm season begins, threatening to unleash untold damage on the Garden State. They called on the state Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to adopt new stormwater requirements and use updated rainfall data, as was promised to be done by January.
NJPACT’s emergency rules would result in new housing built with current rainfall estimates and would ensure new structures are not located in flood-prone areas, allowing the land to absorb excess moisture from today’s more intense storms instead of spilling water into roads and flooding downstream neighbors.
Jim Waltman, The Watershed Institute’s executive director, said the speakers were gathered today to remember Ida and to call on Governor Murphy to advance the measures he promised to limit the damage from future storms. Thirty people lost their lives in the storm and residents suffered considerable property damage, resulting in FEMA payouts of more than $247 million to close to 45,000 New Jersey residents.
“When asked about the delays at a press conference last week, on the Anniversary of Ida, Governor Murphy responded that “it’s complicated.” It’s not complicated, Governor. Please heed the science, support your administration’s scientists, and approve the proposed emergency rule,” Waltman said. “Heed Ida’s warning. It’s time to stop hitting the snooze button and take action.”
Manville Mayor Richard Onderko, who hosted the press event, called on the governor to take action immediately.
“My hometown, the Borough of Manville, is Ground Zero to see the adverse affects of poor stormwater regulations over the last several decades as more and more impervious cover is added into our watershed,” he said. “The flooding problems we encounter are a man made problem and a serious quality of life issue throughout our state.”
Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey, added, “We shouldn’t wait another year to put in place protections from the next climate-induced storm that will flood New Jersey streets and homes. New development shouldn’t put people in harm’s way and should reflect the best science we have. Now is the time for Gov. Murphy’s administration to move forward with these NJPACT flooding rules.”
Princeton Council Member David Cohen spoke about the interconnectedness of water, sharing that Princeton’s handling of stormwater affects flooding in Manville.
“With climate change, our rules are woefully out of date, requiring developers to design only for yesteryear’s storms, when we know that even designing for today’s storms is not enough to protect us in the future,” he said. “Our climate change problems are treatable, but we must engage with them head-on, and we need help from the State to avert the current tragedy of the commons – New Jersey must issue the emergency rules which will allow communities throughout the state to realistically plan for the threat we all know is coming, and which for communities like Manville is already here.
Cranford Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty said she appreciated the governor’s visit last year, his $1.8 million in funding for a stormwater project, and cited the need for action and updated data.
“Our flood maps and rainfall data haven’t been updated since 1999 and include data going back to 1899. He was right to order DEP to strengthen these rules 2.5 years ago to better keep people and property out of harm’s way from the increased rainfall and flooding due to the climate emergency. And DEP was right in May to announce expediting these long-promised and long-delayed flood hazard and stormwater rules. They can’t be implemented fast enough, before the next Ida,” she said in a prepared statement.
The press conference echoes key points made by 30 environmental groups in a letter sent to the governor on June 17 stating that New Jersey’s land use regulations are outdated and not sufficiently protective. With flooding throughout the state at historic levels, they said the Murphy Administration can no longer delay any improvements to climate resiliency.
Tomorrow, the Department of Community Affairs has scheduled an in-person public hearing from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Manville High School auditorium to solicit feedback on how the balance of the $228 million in federal disaster relief funds should be spent.
The Sept. 7 press conference in Manville gained some news coverage. Below is a sample, as well as a video of the entire conference.