With record flooding wreaking havoc on New Jersey this year, Assembly Democrats Connie Wagner, John S. Wisniewski and Vincent Prieto are sponsoring several measures approved on Monday by an Assembly panel that will help towns provide long-term solutions to ward off future flooding problems. “There is only so much flooding any one community can handle. It’s time to look at the bigger picture and figure out how we can address this problem moving forward,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “These measures will help minimize any havoc that might be wreaked by future storms.”
The first bill (A-4267), sponsored by Wagner and Prieto, mirrors a similar “Green Acres” measure instituted by various local governments wherein municipalities would be allowed to establish municipal open space trust funds specifically for the purchase of flood-prone properties. In order to establish such a fund, local governing bodies would have to seek voter approval for an annual levy at a rate deemed appropriate.
“This measure would put residents in the driver’s seat to decide how they want to handle flooding issues in their town,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “For certain properties that consistently flood, allowing the municipality to buy up that property might be the best option. This will provide towns with the funding mechanism to do that, should voters give it the okay.”
Under current law, municipalities are authorized to establish "Municipal Open Space, Recreation, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Funds." This bill would amend the name of these municipal open space trust funds to be "Municipal Open Space, Recreation, Floodplain Protection, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Funds."
In doing so, the bill would expand this authorization to specifically include "Blue Acres projects,” which are any projects acquired for recreation or conservation purposes on land that has been damaged by, or may be prone to incurring damage caused by, storms or storm-related flooding, or that may buffer or protect other lands from such damage. The funds would be allowed to be used for the demolition of structures or the removal of debris from such properties and the restoration of those lands to a natural state or to a state useful for recreation and conservation purposes.
The second bill (A-4269), sponsored by Wagner, is known as the “Emergency Transportation and Water Infrastructure Recovery Bond Act of 2011.” The measure would authorize the state to issue $100 million in general obligation bonds to be used to provide $50 million in grants to counties and $50 million in grants to municipalities for the cost of transportation infrastructure projects and water infrastructure projects required to be undertaken to meet an emergency caused, directly or indirectly, by Hurricane Irene or by other acts of God during August and September, 2011.
“Over the last few years, in particular, broad swaths of our state have incurred devastating damage from record flooding events,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “We can no longer continue to rely on band aid methods that simply repair damage rather than warding it off to begin with. It’s time we invest in tackling the underlying problems to prevent flood-related damage altogether.”
“With record weather events increasing, it’s clear that certain towns are in need of significant structural upgrades,” said Wagner. “What might have worked years ago, isn’t necessarily the case now, due to development and changing weather patterns. In Garfield, for example, concrete walls supporting the bridge over the Saddle River create a natural damn during heavy rains, something that could be eliminated through new technology that no longer requires these large support structures. But all of this requires an investment and the state should be a willing partner.”
Under the bill, the Commissioners of Transportation and Environmental Protection would establish eligibility criteria and procedures for the review and approval of emergency infrastructure projects. Each commissioner would prepare a priority list of eligible projects under that commissioner’s jurisdiction, and bond funds are to be appropriated by the Legislature only in accordance with the respective priority lists.
Because the projects to be funded out of proceeds from the bonds are to “meet an emergency caused by disaster or an act of God,” the legislation is exempt from the ordinary constitutional requirement that it be put on the ballot for approval. Therefore, the bill would take effect immediately upon enactment.
Both measures were approved by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. Cumulatively, the lawmakers hope these proposals will provide both short and long term fixes to the persistent flooding problems that have plagued many parts of New Jersey.