September 2015 update: Since the date of this 2012 post (just before super storm Sandy) Downe Township has completed millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements including a $500,000 seawall in front of my house at Money Island, I have personally invested substantial additional money in aquaculture and ecotourism projects and have agreed to help raise the $1+ million of private equity that will be necessary to revitalize the Money Island economy if government also joins the effort. My home remains unrepaired since the storm and all insurance claims and recovery funding applications have been denied. About half of the local residents have already decided to sell their properties to the state Blue Acres program for a number of reasons: 1) they have been unable to obtain building permits to repair Sandy damages, 2) they are scared of rapidly rising property taxes, 3) the state is offering to purchase at pre-storm valuations which is substantially more than they would be able to realize in this current environment of declining property values. My clients are split evenly on the issue of selling out or staying put. I am still not sure that those who remain won’t wind up bankrupt due to the costs of dealing with rising water levels but it seems clear that the decision to give revitalization toward sustainability our very best effort regardless of the unknowns. Much of the progress over the past few years is attributable to the efforts of one person: mayor Bob Campbell. Sandy proved to be the “kick in the pants” that forced us to deal with our long ignored issues.
I just had the opportunity to view the Downe Township Improvement Plan presentation and agree that it certainly shows an amazingly inspiring vision of the future of our community!
Unfortunately, as much as I would love to see that vision become a reality, the plan ignores what most people accept to be the facts and science and have come to accept as our real future of life along the shoreline. The expectation of increased tidal flooding and increased energy levels magnifying the veracity of erosion gives almost any man-made infrastructure investment a significantly limited lifespan. Of course that does not mean that we can’t forge ahead anyway; spend as much money as we can get our hands on and hang on just as long as we can. But is that really where our responsibility of stewardship directs us? I just can not see how the various custodians of various public funding sources could justify this expense when virtually every other seafront community along the east coast is taking the opposite approach an backing off its plans for long term investment in the inundation areas. Is it reasonable for us to buck the trend? Until viewing the Downe Township proposal, I’ve not heard of anyone in government or industry – inside or outside the state of New Jersey – who really expects to be working with infrastructure improvements along the shoreline throughout the remainder of this decade.
Every community that I am aware of from Maine to Florida that has dealt with the same issue is now moving toward adoption of a long term strategic retreat from the expected inundation areas. The focus is on “lightening the load” on public resources and the shoreline environment. Delaware, for example, recently acknowledge the public health threats posed by water treatment facilities in the lowest 10% of the state’s communities. Delaware’s focus is now turning to how to most effectively move humans away from these susceptible areas along the Delaware Bay rather than spending money to battle against nature. Sustainable and responsible management of our valuable natural resources involves taking a “soft footprint” approach and minimizing the human impact on the tidal flood zones.
My prediction is that by 2020 we will have witnessed so much physical change and turnover in leadership in the Downe Township communities that further discussion of publicly funded infrastructure improvement will be a moot point. I think that whatever we plan to accomplish in our quest toward sustainability needs to be set into motion before then. It certainly will be interesting to see how the sharply different visions of the future play out over the next few years.