Concern over coastal-building rules
Critics say the proposals miss an opportunity to protect areas hard-hit by Sandy and other storms.
At the first of three scheduled hearings on the proposed changes, representatives of some of the state's leading environmental groups said Wednesday night that the proposed rules - which would be the first changes to coastal-development policy since the devastating October 2012 storm - miss a golden opportunity to better protect the coast.
"After all that New Jersey has been through with Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and so many other climate events, these rules do not even mention climate change or have any proposals to deal with them," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "It's repeating the failed mistakes of the past."
The rules would make it easier to build or expand marinas and add restaurants to them, and build one- or two-family homes in coastal areas. They also would make it easier to erect piers and to build attractions on them.
The proposal also changes mitigation requirements for some projects. Environmentalists say the compensatory work for development disruptions would not make up for the original impact on the environment.
The Department of Environmental Protection says it is acting to streamline regulations and cut red tape while maintaining environmental protections.
"What this regulatory package does is make it easier for people to apply for permits," said Ray Cantor, an aide to DEP Commissioner Robert Martin.
He said the new rules would make it easier to build marinas and dredge certain waterways, which he said were worthy goals.
Ginger Kop'kash, the DEP's assistant commissioner for land use, said the proposed changes sought to unify two sets of rules and make applications more uniform.
Bruce Shapiro of the New Jersey Association of Realtors was the only one of about a dozen speakers at the hearing who favored them.
"These rules will help homeowners and other property owners at the Shore when making repairs to their homes," he said. "This will help them by providing some clarity in obtaining permits."
Some environmentalists say the rules are a gift to developers.
"We continue to have high growth in areas that were shown to be vulnerable in the storm," said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society. "The department doesn't seem to have taken that lesson to heart."
Additional hearings will be held Thursday in Trenton and next month in Tuckerton.