Streamlining of coastal management and zoning proposed by the Christie Administration this week draws fire from Sierra Club New Jersey.

Details issued through the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) tout the elimination of red tape and greater transparency for applicants while maintaining resource-protection levels, but the environmental group characterizes it as a series of loopholes and waivers that threaten to weaken resilience.

Public hearings take place June 25 at the Long Branch Municipal Building; June 26 at the DEP public hearing room in Trenton; and July 9 at the Jacques Cousteau Coastal Education Center in Tuckerton.

According to DEP, the changes would consolidate Coastal Zone Management and Coastal Permit Program rules to align with permitting processes that apply to freshwater wetlands and flood hazard zone programs.

"These revisions will add clarity to our regulatory processes and provide better predictability in the regulatory process to our constituents by eliminating unnecessary red tape," DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said in a prepared release. "But they will not in any way affect our primary mission of protecting the natural resources that make our coastal areas such a wonderful place for living, working and playing."

Among the main points highlighted by DEP:

  • Greater use of electronic permitting
  • Simpler permit processes for minor dredging jobs at homes and marinas
  • Greater flexibility to build new marinas or expand existing ones, and allowing on-site restaurant construction
  • A higher degree of confluence between rules and terminologies for coastal and freshwater wetland mitigation procedures.
  • Consistency in emergency permitting, application processes and public notices, permit conditions and changes, and hearing requests
  • Higher flexibility for several general permits to cover a broader range of construction projects.

See the complete rule proposal here.

The plan leaves Sierra Club New Jersey Director Jeff Tittel fuming. He accused state officials of opening the door for coastal development sprawl and perpetuating the errors that led to the destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy.

New Jersey's storm surges and sea level rise are reaching an "alarming" rate, Tittel said. "Instead of moving New Jersey forward to mitigate for these climate impacts, we are instead opening our coast up for more high density and intense development in these hazardous areas," Tittel said.

He went on to characterize the proposal as a "giveaway to developers and politically connected marina owners." He contended that it contains no study of drinking water quality, sewer capacity, non-point source pollution or hazard planning, and broadens the definition of nonporous cover to levels that threaten the health of the Barnegat Bay Watershed.

"It is not about building better or smarter, it is about trying to rebuild the past and maybe elevate it," Tittel said. "The concern is that this is not going to make us more resilient for the next storm."