NJ Recovery Fund Update: Environment & Planning Programming

April 22, 2014

The environment/planning grantees are leading the advocacy effort for greater transparency and public debate on how the state spends its Sandy recovery funds, providing direct support to communities for long term resiliency planning, and implementing on-the-ground demonstration projects that showcase the value of natural systems as integral to community resiliency, sustainability, and public safety.

A subset of these grantees, the NJRF Policy Group, has organized specifically around advocacy efforts. Their goal is for the state to invest the billions of dollars in federal funding responsibly, so that homes, businesses and the state economy are not put back in harm’s way. This includes incorporating open spaces and natural buffers – such as healthy beaches, wetlands and marshes – into coastal planning; building roads, bridges and other infrastructure that can stand up to more frequent flooding and extreme weather; and ensuring that funds are fairly distributed to low- and moderate-income homeowners and renters.

This group of grantees successfully advocated for an expanded public process in the federal funding process.  When the first tranche of HUD Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) was announced, and Federal money made its way to the state, no public hearings were required or held; the public only had two weeks to review the state’s action plan and submit comments. The NJRF Policy Group organized and collaborated on communications to the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), requesting that the State participate in public hearings so that residents could weigh in on how the second round of Federal money is spent. As a result, the second round of CDBG funding included a requirement by HUD that the state hold a public hearing and provide one month for the public to submit comments. The state responded by holding three hearings in the different Sandy-impacted areas in the state.

The NJRF policy group has served as the watchdog of this recovery process that has been marked by a lack of transparency on the part of NJ state government and individual grantees have played a critical role in advancing objectives of fairness and equity. Fair Share Housing Center has been very active in filing Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests and even filing suit against the state to access information. Fair Share Housing has received extensive media coverage about its Sandy-related activities, much of which can be viewed here. NJRF’s grant to Fair Share Housing increased its capacity, allowing the organization to dedicate more time to Sandy issues.

In addition to the policy advocacy focus of the environment/planning grantees for the NJ Recovery Fund, there some grantees focused on direct environmental restoration and resiliency demonstration projects. For example, Conserve Wildlife Foundation and partners worked under a tight timeline to restore destroyed beaches in the Delaware Bayshore, thereby enabling horseshoe crabs to breed in high densities in key locations just in time for the critical spring bird migration.

The project’s first stage was an emergency restoration of accessible beaches in March-April of 2013, which allowed two spring tides to level sand placed on the beaches before the horseshoe crabs spawned. The second phase of the project addresses the wind-driven waves overturning crabs and halting egg-laying, thus increasing crab mortality from desiccation and predation and in turn disrupting shorebird feeding. Wave-attenuating oyster reefs installed at bay beaches create shelter and protection through an ingenious extension of aquaculture – built and maintained by local oystermen. This creates a new and lasting income for New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore residents while also protecting beaches from the destructive storms to come.

The beach restoration that occurred for this project was successfully completed before the 2013 breeding season and helped to avoid catastrophic declines in horseshoe crabs and shorebirds. The oyster reefs not only help crabs and shorebirds, but they also protect the Delaware Bayshore and have had other impacts. Beaches that were once mostly gravel and rubble are now beautiful stretches of sand for fun and recreation. This type of habitat restoration/beach replenishment for Horseshoe Crabs was the first of its kind in the nation, recognizing the ecological importance of this habitat to the threatened Horseshoe Crab population and to migrating shorebirds, as well as the economic value of these beaches to the rural communities of the Delaware Bayshore.

Other environmental/planning projects funded by NJRF are listed below:

  • Sustainable Jersey launched the NJ Resiliency Network in January 2014 to provide and coordinate assistance to post-Sandy municipalities.
  • New Jersey Future hired three Local Recovery Managers to support seven underserved communities with long-term disaster recovery and resiliency planning.
  • The Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University received funding to execute community participation vision processes in three towns to engage in regenerative planning (Sayreville, Atlantic Highlands, and Sea Bright).
  • The Bloustein School also received funds to provide comprehensive geospatial, policy and analytical support to recovery, community engagement, planning and policy efforts of the Recovery Fund.
  • The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary is working with the Bayshore Center at Bivalve and communities to develop a sustainable infrastructure plan for the South Jersey Bayshore that values local stewardship, natural capital and environmental justice.
  • American Littoral Society and its partners NYNJ Baykeeper, Clean Ocean Action and The Nature Conservancy are working to develop and advocate for policies to increase coastal resilience, restore and protect coastal waters, and reduce recurring destruction.

In addition to the grants mentioned above, NJRF provided funding to the HUD Rebuild by Design Competition (RBD). This project is an initiative of the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

The competition challenged the most talented design professionals to envision solutions that increase resilience across the Sandy-affected region. Over the past year, 10 interdisciplinary teams were selected, the teams engaged regional and local stakeholders, and final project proposals were recently reviewed by a special jury and submitted to HUD for a final decision. Of the 10 projects, three were focused on New Jersey. HUD is now in the process of deciding which projects will be funded for implementation based on several factors such as political support, community buy-in, and cost.

Final projects will be funded primarily from the federal CDBG program and will follow the same process that we have seen in other CDBG tranches. Governors Cuomo and Christie, and Mayor de Blasio have all submitted letters to RBD saying that they support these projects and that they have the capacity to oversee their implementation.