TOMS RIVER - In the five years since Superstorm Sandy, whether you've rebuilt your Superstorm-ravaged home, are still struggling, want to learn what we can expect in the future, or have ideas about preparing ahead, your participation is welcome at a town hall-type meeting in Toms River tonight.

AP

Sierra Club New Jersey is bringing coastal engineering experts from Rutgers and members of the New Jersey Resource Project to the Ocean County Administrative Building to the gathering, at 7 PM in the third-floor cafeteria.

Jeff Tittel, Sierra Club's leader in the Garden State, says that he expects to hear not only criticism, but also success stories, and he wishes that there were many more of them.

"That's why it's sad," he remarked. "We could be doing things so much better, and making sure that we're protecting people from future storms. We're still hurting. We still have a lot of people who aren't back in their homes. You have anniversaries so you can look at what's gone on since the event, where we are, and where we need to go."

NJ Sierra Club President Jeff Tittel speaks during press conference along with a dozen other state environmental groups (Ilya Hemlin Townsquare Media NJ)

Tittel dubbed Governor Christie's week-long recap of his administration's storm-related actions, programs and initiatives the "Sandy Denial Tour," pointing out that rebuilding quickly does not necessarily prepare vulnerable communities to ward off future calamities. He believes that foresight was lost in the rush to restore a sense of normalcy.

"They didn't look at the science, to ensure that we're building in the right places, and at the right elevations," Tittel said. "We rushed forward to build boardwalks in the exact same spots where they were destroyed. We rushed to put pipelines back in the exact same spots where they were pushed out of [Barnegat] Bay. We built houses in places that don't meet standards to protect them from the next storm."

Tittel contends that rebuilding must take into account not just roads and buildings for people, but the ecosystems on which we depend that exist beside, beneath and around them. Reconstruction, in his view, scarcely included re-imagining or re-designing to protect wetlands, buffer streams, and adapt chronic flood areas to protect people, homes, infrastructure, and New Jersey's shore economy.

Governor's Office/Tim Larsen

The Governor's office has trumpeted numerous achievements throughout the week, including:

  • $2,400,000,000 in federal funds for rebuilding and rental assistance
  • 7,600 homeowners sharing $900,000,000 in the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program, with about 5,500 projects fully completed
  • Expansion of the Blue Acres program, giving home owners in flood-prone areas the option to sell at pre-Sandy values and relocate, while the properties are converted to open space, parklands, or storm-buffering zones against future floods, with 610 buyouts completed and 475 homes demolished
  • Development of about 6,500 affordable housing units
  • About $190,000,000 in federal aid for rental assistance to families juggling the costs of repairs, mortgages and rents
  • Dispersal of FEMA grants for community planning, reinforcing essential services delivery, technical assistance
  • Social services block grants for legal literacy, nursing and detox support, behavioral health and blood lead testing
  • $214,000,000 for business restoration through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority
  • Road reconstruction, utility infrastructure enhancements, and the New Jersey Energy Resilience Bank, aimed at ensuring that hospitals, wastewater treatment plants, and other critical operations remain running during disasters

Tittel acknowledges the progress and accomplishments, and at the same time observes that if there's a long-range plan for anything beyond sand dune maintenance, he hasn't seen it.

A cogent plan for effective resilience, he says, includes benchmark goals for one, five, 10 and even 50 years. "I'm concerned, with sea level rise and worsening storm surges, that we might end up losing some sections of the coast. We'll have, potentially, new areas for wetlands to protect other properties. Some wetlands are disappearing. In the Delaware Bay Shore, we're losing a football field a year in wetlands. We must plan now, instead of waiting until it happens."

On Monday, October 30, you're invited to take part in WOBM-AM 1160/1310's one-hour discussion of post-Sandy progress and challenges, 7-8 PM. The call-in line is 732-505-1160.

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