Commentary

What Can Feds Do to Get LBI on Board With Storm Study?

By PETER E. TRAINOR | Apr 03, 2019

Engagement with the public should be a critical component of the Army Corps of Engineers’ New Jersey Back Bays Coastal Storm Risk Management Study’s planning for the future. Unfortunately, the March 1 study’s interim report recommends projects to be implemented with no plans for public engagement.

The study’s report describes public meetings, which were insufficient to address the Long Beach Island public’s concerns or needs.

The Joint Council of Taxpayer Associations therefore requests the Corps immediately develop a comprehensive public engagement program that takes into account the following issues and recommendations.

Public engagement must take into account the two distinct coastal community populations: homeowners and vacationers. Also, the homeowner population is approximately 10,000 on LBI, the vast majority of whose homes are vacated for the winter. Vacationers number 100,000 to 150,000 on LBI per day in season.

The public has little understanding of the flooding issues and proposed projects. Online information is poorly organized, with relevant information being overly technical and difficult to find. The study’s preliminary report obscures regional information and is also overly technical and difficult for a layperson to interpret.

Local government officials and Realtors fear increased public knowledge will result in a substantial decrease in property values.

No organization is responsible for educating the public on issues, projects or even how to protect their property from storm damage. There is no master plan addressing back bay islands’ erosion in addition to a lack of coordination among federal, state, county and local governments to address the erosion of back bay islands that protect LBI from coastal storm damage.

Recommendations are as follows:

Develop a comprehensive public education plan.

Expand the New Jersey Department of Education’s student learning standards for climate control to public programs.

Create and fund an Office of Public Engagement at a local college or university to develop and implement regional public education programs.

As a model, please refer to Florida Atlantic University, which has had, for over 50 years, an Office of Public Engagement. This office, through community partnerships, public private partnerships and multi-stakeholder coalitions, has united collective resources to embrace the most complex challenges in the community and create impact, hope and opportunity.

Designate Long Beach Island as a regional public engagement demonstration site.

Coordinate with the proposed college/university Office of Public Engagement for a regional public education program that utilizes the LBI environmental resilience grant, as well as the JCTA’s email information system between the council, local taxpayer associations and their membership.

Create a singular and streamlined website to act as a depository for information about flooding issues and proposed solutions.

The Office of Public Engagement should conduct meetings and workshops year ’round to account for seasonal population fluctuation on Long Beach Island.

Develop a regional (LBI) public information system that includes appropriate data from academia, the Army Corps, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Ocean County and LBI municipalities.

Develop/coordinate public educational programs to assist homeowners in how to implement projects that will decrease flood damage (i.e. bulkhead improvements).

Finally, replicate educational programs developed on Long Beach Island to other back bay study regions.

Peter E. Trainor is chairman of the Long Beach Island Joint Council of Taxpayer Associations’ Environmental Committee. This column was adapted from a letter sent last month to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Planning Division in Philadelphia.

 

 

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