N.J. seeks public input on storm plan

Posted: March 13, 2014

Hurricane Sandy shook much of the New Jersey Shore off its foundations, literally and figuratively.

So the state's Office of Emergency Management is asking the public - for the first time - to review the hazard mitigation plan being submitted to the federal government. The plan is updated every three years.

No hearings are scheduled, but in writing, citizens may weigh in on concerns about withstanding disasters, as officials lay the groundwork for mitigating future storms. In a news release, the state's emergency management office said the public comment period is an effort to "increase transparency" with regard to its "disaster risk reduction strategies."

Since the last plan was submitted to the federal government in 2011, New Jersey has experienced seven "high-impact events" and natural disaster declarations, including Sandy, which made landfall near Brigantine on Oct. 29, 2012, and caused more than $38 billion in damage in the state's four shoreline counties.

To be eligible for federal disaster recovery assistance and funding, all states are required to have an approved hazard mitigation plan, but they are not required to seek public input, according to Mary Goepfert, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management.

The plan will be submitted before the public comment period concludes in order to meet a federal deadline, Goepfert said. But the state agency will use the information gleaned from the public as guidance in handling future disasters, she said.

The proposed 94-page plan may be viewed and comment submissions may be made by going to www.ready.nj.gov and clicking on the draft of the 2014 New Jersey Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP).

The monthlong public comment period began Tuesday and will run through April 11.

The plan considers manmade and technological disasters, as well as implementation strategies. The goal is to reduce risks from future perils and establish a basis for prioritizing future funding, according to officials.

"Mitigation strategies are about helping communities reduce the impact of disasters," said Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the state police and director of New Jersey's Office of Emergency Management, in a statement. "The plan provides guidance to aid communities in making decisions about municipal planning and development that will increase sustainability, help save lives, and protect property from future disasters."

Public advocacy groups such as New Jersey Future are applauding the state's efforts to allow the public to have a say about its emergency planning.

As the state moves forward after Sandy, it is important to include its citizens in decisions about future storm mitigation, said Peter Kasabach, executive director of New Jersey Future, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy group that promotes sustainable land use.

"We have been requesting since last fall that the public be allowed to review a draft and are delighted that the public will now have this opportunity," he said.

New Jersey Future will analyze the lengthy plan and submit comments, Kasabach said. A review of the state's previous plan found three specific issues that the group felt needed to be addressed: a comprehensive assessment of shoreline risk, including vulnerabilities of storm surge and sea level rise; the failure to consult local planning boards and professional staffs, which may have tools and helpful information; and the lack of full engagement by municipalities in county plans in assessing risks and prioritizing mitigation.

The state's hazard mitigation plan will "only make a difference if it leads to a change in the way decisions are made," said Chris Sturm, senior director of state policy for New Jersey Future.

"We look forward to reviewing the state Hazard Mitigation Plan to ensure that it includes the lessons we learned in Superstorm Sandy."



jurgo@phillynews.com

609-652-8382 @JacquelineUrgo

www.inquirer.com/downashore

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