Sea level rise response in Delaware and New Jersey

A tale of two vastly different responses to sea level rise

Money Island NJ (the gold star on the map) is located on the eastern shore of the Delaware Bay midway between the C&D canal connecting to the Chesapeake Bay to the northwest and Cape May to the southeast.

Here in the middle Delaware Bay we are bordered by two states: Delaware on the west and New Jersey on the east. Both sides of the bay are equally affected by sea level rise. Both states have lost towns in the past decade to the effects of sea level rise. Both states are suffering from decline in value of bayfront farmland and shorefront properties. Governments in both states are struggling equally with the cost of maintaining public services under these higher water conditions. But that’s where the similarity ends. The actual planning for dealing with sea level rise is far different between the two states. I’ve been actively engaged in the sea level rise response actions in both states for more than a decade and the differences in official government actions have been astounding.

The fishing town of Port Mahon, DE with its light house used to be visible directly across the bay from Money Island. The town is completely washed away and under water today.

The State of Delaware has a fully developed sea level rise response plan with the input and involvement of all stakeholders. Starting back in 2009 the state held a number of educational public meeting to solicit the best ideas from a wide range of sources. The state is preparing for sea level rise between 1.6 feet and 4.9 feet above their present levels by the year 2100. You can read the resulting executive summary sea level rise response plan titled “Preparing for Tomorrow’s High Tide” with plenty more details on the state’s web site.

These homes at Money Island NJ were purchased by the state for demolition under the Green Acres program and the property may be used for environmental education and research. This photo is taken at low tide showing water level as it used to be decades ago. Now at high tide these lots are completely under water.

The State of New Jersey is barely past the point of denial of the existence of sea level rise. Some NJ government officials appear to still be in denial. You can read recent (September 2017) news coverage by David Kutner in Asbury Park Press criticizing New jersey’s lack of sea level rise response. Local Downe Township Mayor calling sea level rise “hogwash” in the June 2017 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Until now, the state’s primary official response is to truck sand to damaged shorelines and purchase, then demolish, homes that are in danger of increased flooding. This is not a sustainable response plan especially if sea level rise continues to advance by another 1.5 to 3 feet within our lifetime. New Jersey has recently come as far as to now officially recognize the risk of sea level rise response. You can read the state’s official positions here. The state’s web site positions still lag behind the most recent sea level rise research available through Rutgers and NOAA. To New Jersey’s credit, the state is now taking sea level rise response seriously. We still have a long way to go. But we can and will develop a response plan that our residents can rely upon.

Governor Christie said that he was unaware of Money Island in this 2015 radio show. It is our belief that unelected appointed officials at the NJDEP have been mostly responsible for the state’s illogical and damaging government policies that harmed us during the Christie era.

Now is the time of maximum opportunity for individuals and organizations to influence and contribute to our sea level rise response plan so that New Jersey will eventually catch up with the State of Delaware in meeting  this challenge. No doubt Money Island’s educational/research community and the commercial fishing community will continue to have a lot to say on the topic. We know that sea level rise is a manageable phenomenon and are ready to embrace both the challenges and opportunities presented by sea level rise.

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