NJ’s Disaster Plan & You: Forgettaboutit

Long on hazards, short on mitigation, and completely missing public comment: Public comments open until April 11 but won’t be considered 

NJ State Hazard Mitigation Plan: Long on Hazards, Short on Mitigation? Public comments Open Until April 11 But Won’t Be Considered

Back on March 11, the NJ Office of Emergency Management (OEM) tweeted and posted some good news: the state’s new FEMA-required 2014 Hazard Mitigation Plan was ready—and open for public comment until April 11.

This was really big, important news about NJ’s official “Disaster Plan,” since the last one was done in 2011 pre-Sandy.

An updated Hazard Mitigation Plan is not only a good idea to keep NJ citizens safe, but it's also Federally-mandated every three years.

All states are required to have a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)- approved hazard mitigation plan in place to be eligible for disaster recovery assistance and mitigation funding.

The bad news? Hardly anyone heard the news.

I take full responsibility for missing Bill Wolfe’s ongoing coverage of this issue until today (Mar. 31). In my defense, I feel there was very little effort made on the State’s part to get my input. For one, the official press release for the Plan’s release didn’t include the start and end dates for the public comment period until I tweeted the error to them on Mar. 31.

Here’s a screen grab of the press release before the OEM office fixed it on Mar. 31. 

ScreengrabCS.jpg

It’s hard to read, but the second sentence says:

“The comment period will start (date) and end (date).”

That kind of says to me that the OEM office wasn't all that interested in hearing anything the general public had to say. (I know I’m being harsh here about an obvious typo in a press release. But this issue is important.)

What’s more, Governor Christie didn’t mention the new Plan or the public comment period in any of his recent high-profile Town Halls. The March 11 OEM announcement was tweeted exactly once. To the best of my knowledge, there were no official events connected to the Plan’s release.

And here’s the kicker. NJ’s OEM needed to submit it to FEMA by the end of March. So any public comments received were never going to be used for the current plan. No, I’m not kidding.

As reported by the central New Jersey Suburban paper March 20, here’s OEM spokesperson Mary Goepfert:

For the first time, the state has also opened up the plan to public comment through April 11 to “increase transparency regarding proposed disaster risk reduction strategies.”

However, because the plan must be submitted to FEMA by the end of March, those comments will not have an impact on the currently proposed plan, Goepfert said.

Now, I applaud that the Plan includes climate change and sea level rise for the first time. I’m glad that many of the state’s climate experts participated in the process. And that a public comment period was added, even if it is meaningless.

But it’s just not good enough.

For one, without the checks and balances of public review and input, it’s only the Christie Administration’s version.

Another concern is that Plan is long on Hazards and might be short on Mitigation.

As NJ environmental activist Bill Wolfe writes:

The plan is studded with obligatory references to scientific findings on the effects of climate change but does not integrate that science into state planning or changes in building codes, project designs, regulations or plans to spend billions of federal aid dollars.

My layperson reading of the Plan backs up Mr. Wolfe’s observation.

I couldn’t find any specific policy recommendations in the Plan to mitigate flooding hazards.

We need a plan that not only says what’s potentially likely to happen, but also what we’re going to do to keep NJ citizens safe and our economy up and running.

This plan should put all the best science and data together for State officials, citizens, planners and policy makers to make better decisions about how our state should spend money and resources.

In my opinion, this plan doesn’t come close to what we need. And without the public’s input, it’s not likely to.

So take some time to read the Plan. Share it with your friends, especially those with expertise.

Submit your comments.

And tell Governor Christie and your State representatives how you feel about it.

Claire Sommer is an independent sustainability writer based in West Orange. Reach her at claire@kayakmedia.com, @Kayakmediatweet and her blog at kayakmedia.com. She co-wrote NJPPN’s 2013 “Agenda 21 and Your Town” toolkit to help NJ’s municipal leaders deal with anti-sustainable development activists.

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