NJ will order emergency rules for new construction in areas hit by floods

Governor. Phil MurphyThe administration is preparing to implement emergency regulations for new construction in flood-prone areas to help fortify the state, as officials expect storms to become more frequent and volatile due to climate change, NJ Advance Media has learned.

Officials say the rules – expected to be enacted later this month – will modernize how the state Department of Environmental Protection regulates development in flood zones, using current and future rainfall instead of figures that are now two decades old. The rules will also update how stormwater is managed.

The first will drastically increase the areas included in flood zones to help reduce where flood damage is occurring, according to environmentalists who hail the move as an important step.

But the rules could face a backlash from developers, business groups and some municipalities over concerns about cost and impact on construction projects.

Specifically, the DEP will raise project flood levels by two feet in non-tidal – or inland – flood zones, according to a presentation the agency gave to environmentalists and other groups last week, a copy of which NJ Advance Media obtained.

“Science has shown that areas that were not flooded before are now flooded, and areas that were once flooded are now flooded more often,” said David Pringle of EmpowerNJ, a coalition of environmental groups. “We need the rules to reflect the latest science to better protect people and property.”

Amy Goldsmith, state director of Clean Water Action, added: “They are basically trying to create a security zone. They don’t say don’t build. But they tell you the danger is greater. ”

The DEP will also require the use of new precipitation projections when calculating projected flood height and orders that stormwater drainage be calculated not only for today’s storms but future storms, according to the presentation.

This, officials say, is needed because climate change has caused increased rainfall, and current state regulations depend on rainfall data until only 1999. They are not responsible for increases due to climate change or future conditions.

The rules do not apply to existing developments but only to future development and renovation projects, according to the presentation.

Caryn Shinske, a spokeswoman for the DEP, said in a statement that the rules continue the “commitment of the Murphy administration to take proactive measures to protect New Jersey residents, their property and our communities from the continuing imminent threat of flooding resulting from increased frequency and intensity of climate-influenced precipitation. “

Shinske added that this will help guide development and renovation across the state, specifically in areas still recovering from Tropical Storm Ida last September and may be eligible for federal funding.

“As evidenced by the extreme rainfall experienced statewide last summer, limited by the devastation caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida, the state’s dependence on data looking back from 1999 is no longer enough to ensure continued protection of our homes. , communities., economies and people, “Shinske said.

New Jersey has been hit by a major flood in 10 of the last 21 years, according to the agency. Most recently, IDA dropped 10 inches of rain in parts of Essex, Hunterdon, Middlesex, and Union counties, causing severe lightning, damage to homes across the state, and 30 deaths.

By the end of this century, the DEP said, strong storms are expected to occur 200% to 500% more frequently and with more intensity.

“While we need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a certain amount of global warming is already in full swing,” said Pringle, the environmentalist. “While we are receiving emissions coverage, we also have to deal with extreme weather. We need to do a better job of keeping people safe from harm. ”

Goldsmith warned that “Idas and Irenes and Floyds will come faster and more furious and more devastating.”

“We need people to build better, taller and get back on track in unprecedented ways,” said the director of Clean Water Action.

Environmentalists’ praise comes after Murphy faced some criticism for his use of climate change in New Jersey.

In April, EmpowerNJ said in report that New Jersey is in danger of failing Murphy’s goals to combat climate change if the governor’s own administration does not stop fossil fuel projects it has approved and act more quickly to install regulations. The group also has took Murphy’s administration to court to push for more action on climate change.

Goldsmith said “we are still waiting for rules on the issue.”

“But this is important,” she said of the new rules. “And a job well done.”

Michael Cerra, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said his organization was not informed of the changes, but noted that some groups that were informed were “concerned.”

“We will review the proposal as soon as possible,” Cerra said, without elaborating.

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Brent Johnson can be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ johnsb01.

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