Panel takes sobering look at future of the Shore

Posted: March 14, 2013

TRENTON - It was a late-afternoon panel of disaster, insurance, and recovery experts speaking in a committee room far from the Shore, but the sobering message Tuesday was aimed squarely at the state's vulnerable edge: Your way of life may be as tenuous as your house was during Sandy.

" Retreat is a bad word," said Judd Schechtman, a graduate fellow at the Rutgers University School of Planning and Public Policy. " Retreat has a very negative connotation, especially in New Jersey. We need a reframing of this: restoration. This is ecological restoration at its heart."

Schechtman subsequently had another phrase to describe the Shore's possible future. "Gentrification of the coast," he said. "More people with means."

Schechtman said he had visited towns such as Sea Isle City and urged them to consider policies such as cluster zones, which decrease lot sizes but preserve public buffer zones and drastically increase beachfront setbacks.

But even ideas such as increasing vegetation are frowned on in parts of the Shore, he said, where homeowners lay carpets of stone in place of front lawns.

"A Sea Isle City code enforcement official told me, 'You want green, paint the stones green,' " he said.

The panel discussion - a similar one was held Monday in New York's capital city - was organized in part by the Reinsurance Industry, the companies that insure insurance companies. Mike Cohen, representing the RenaissanceRe Risk Sciences Foundation, said the aim was to promote hazard mitigation in order to continue the viability of insuring people at all.

There was plenty of talk of what should be at the Jersey Shore in place of what currently is: larger buffer zones, more green space, houses on stilts, clustered zoning, more protection for wildlife.

But the bottom line of much of the hazard mitigation talk evoked nothing so much as Gov. Christie's famous advice pre-Irene: Get the hell off the beach.

Cynthia McHale, director of Insurance Programs at Ceres, a nonprofit advocating business leadership on climate change, said the public money for rebuilding was going to run out as storms intensify and increase in frequency.

"There's no question there are places where people live today that will no longer be habitable in the future. There is not a question. That is a truth," she said.

Chad Berginnis, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, urged government to face up to a difficult future and consider property acquisitions and buyouts, increasing grants to homeowners who need to raise properties.

Long-term planning needs to look at a variety of answers, he said. "Maybe it's retreating from the shoreline. Maybe it's strengthening resilience."

Contact Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-823-0453 or Follow on twitter @amysrosenberg.

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