LONG BRANCH, N.J. (AP) — Environmentalists say New Jersey's proposed new rules for coastal development would place more people and property at risk from future storms like Superstorm Sandy.
At the first of three public hearings on the proposed changes Wednesday night, representatives of some of the state's leading environmental groups said the new rules — the first changes to coastal development policy since the devastating October 2012 storm — miss a golden opportunity to better protect the coast.
"After all that New Jersey has been through with Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and so many other climate events, these rules do not even mention climate change or have any proposals to deal with them," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "It's repeating the failed mistakes of the past."
The rules would make it easier to build or expand marinas and add restaurants to them, and make it easier to build one- or two-family homes in coastal areas. They also would make it easier to erect piers and to build attractions on them.
Some permits would be easier to apply for and get.
The proposal also changes mitigation requirements for some projects; environmentalists say the compensatory work for development disruptions won't make up for the original impact on the environment.
The state Department of Environmental Protection says it's acting to streamline regulations and cut red tape while maintaining environmental protections. Ray Cantor, an aide to DEP Commissioner Robert Martin.
"What this regulatory package does is make it easier for people to apply for permits," said Ray Cantor, an aide to DEP Commissioner Robert Martin.
He said the new rules make it easier to build marinas and dredge certain waterways, which he said are worthy goals the state wants to advance.
Ginger Kop'kash, the DEP's assistant commissioner for land use, said the proposed changes seek to unify two different sets of rules and make applications more uniform.
Bruce Shapiro, of the New Jersey Association of Realtors, was the only one of about a dozen speakers at the hearing who favored them.
"These rules will help homeowners and other property owners at the shore when making repairs to their homes," he said. "This will help them by providing some clarity in obtaining permits."
But some environmentalists say the rules are a gift to developers and fail to learn the lessons of Sandy.
"We continue to have high growth in areas that were shown to be vulnerable in the storm," said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society. "The department doesn't seem to have taken that lesson to heart."
Additional hearings will be held in Trenton on Thursday, and in Tuckerton next month.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC