Inquirer Editorial: To build, or not to build

Gov. Christie announced rebuilding standards.
Gov. Christie announced rebuilding standards. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff)
Posted: January 28, 2013

Gov. Christie deserves applause for quickly announcing tough new building standards for the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort.

The rules are based on new federal flood-plain maps, which are not expected to be made final for at least 18 months, so the risk assessments may change. But Christie said he deliberately set high standards so property owners can decide now whether to rebuild or move on with their lives.

Those who choose to rebuild now will receive guidance on constructing and elevating their homes and businesses.

Any property owner who rebuilds but does not meet the higher standards could face an expensive increase in flood insurance. Those who must move should be compensated for their losses. But people need to understand that, as sad as it would be to leave a home on the beach, it would be worse to live in danger.

Because more than 45 percent of the state's 8.4 million residents live in flood-prone areas, New Jersey already requires buildings to be elevated at least one foot above federal mandates. It's good to see Christie following that tradition of setting higher standards when it comes to rebuilding.

Now his administration needs to similarly require the highest of standards in upgrading the inadequate storm-water systems responsible for fouling New Jersey's bays, in particular the struggling Barnegat Bay.

For his Sandy recovery announcement last week, the governor chose Seaside Heights, where Sandy shoved houses off their foundations and tossed a roller coaster into the waves. That imagery drives home the extent of the destruction that the storm visited upon New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.

In New Jersey, 39 people died, 100 miles of beach were washed away, and property damage is estimated in the billions of dollars. Such destruction and loss of life make it essential to do all that is possible to better protect these areas from extreme weather in the future.

Some will complain that Christie's standards would have them put a house higher up on stilts than the federal government may require. They may complain that they can't afford to rebuild to the new standards. But knowing what is expected now will allow people to begin rebuilding - or not - sooner.

A few areas should not be rebuilt, in particular where houses sit on dune systems. People will want to rebuild there anyway, so it was encouraging to hear the governor support dune reconstruction no matter the public opposition.

At a town-hall meeting earlier this month in Manahawkin, the governor told Harvey Cedars property owners, who have sued to stop dune construction from blocking their ocean views, "We had people lose their lives in this storm. We had people lose everything they own in this storm to protect your view - sorry."

Sometimes Christie's tough-guy persona is a bit much, but this time, it's appropriate. The Shore should be rebuilt to withstand the next superstorm, but not where it doesn't make sense.

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