Some New Jersey residents and environmental groups are suing to try to block the state’s new rules governing coastal development in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, saying they allow too many people and buildings to be put in harm’s way for the next big storm.
Environment New Jersey, Save Barnegat Bay and residents from Eagleswood Township on the shores of Barnegat Bay said Monday they have filed a notice of appeal with the state Superior Court to challenge the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Zone Management Act rules, which were denounced by environmental groups when they were proposed in 2014. The rules took effect last summer.
The DEP said at the time its new rules were designed to streamline regulations and cut red tape while maintaining environmental protections as the state rebuilt from the devastating October 2012 storm.
“Hurricane Sandy should have been our wake-up call to realize unchecked development along our coastlines will only become costlier in the future due to sea level rise,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “Instead, DEP’s finalized coastal zone rules will only greenlight more development in vulnerable coastal communities. DEP’s arbitrary and capricious rules don’t make sense to keep residents in our coastal communities safe.”
Bill Potter, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said the new rules make it easier to build in flood-prone areas, and to establish landfills for dredge spoils in wetlands areas.
“With its massive rewriting of coastal zone policies covering nearly 1,000 pages, the DEP has attempted to do through regulation what it cannot accomplish through legislation — namely, to open up the coastal area to more at-risk development where there should be less,” he said.
DEP spokesman Bob Considine said the agency will defend its rules.
“Our coastal rules are both environmentally responsible and conducive to sound and safe coastal development,” he said. “We look forward to demonstrating in court that this challenge lacks merit.”
The rules make it easier to build new marinas or expand existing ones, and to put restaurants there, and make it easier to erect piers and to build attractions on them.
They also make it easier to build homes along the water, including duplex or two-family houses, and to do “minor” dredging projects for homes or marinas. Some permits would be easier to apply for and get.