by Josephine O’Grady

New Jersey was among the states hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy, resulting in 37 billion dollars in community restoration, and severely affecting 40,500 primary residences and 15,600 rental properties. As coastal hazards continue to rise in frequency and severity, understanding adaptation strategies for coastal management and development is essential to mitigate future hazards in coastal communities.

For New Jersey, this involves creating municipal management solutions that emphasize dune restoration and elevation among oceanfront areas, and wetland development and maintenance around threatening bodies of water. For example, the Raritan Bayshore has utilized local wetlands to develop the area between the bay and their adjacent communities and recently received federal funding to enhance coastal resiliency projects in partnership with Naval Weapons Station Earle.

To effectively respond to coastal hazard threats, coastal adaptation strategies must anticipate the ways storm surges and flooding will impact New Jersey communities over the long term. The sea level has risen by more than 16 inches along the New Jersey coastline since 1911, which is double the global average. The state has also sustained 42 extreme storm events since 1980. In conjunction with the increased frequency of storms, unsustainable land use, population density, and urban growth will have more imminent threats to resiliency as compared with non-coastal areas.

The areas and populations affected by coastal hazards are an important consideration. Racial/ethnic communities are primarily concentrated in metropolitan areas, with Black and Hispanic residents collectively making up 84.3% of the population in Newark, NJ, of which 66.4% of this population live in poverty. This may increase the risk of the overall region due to broader concerns related to socioeconomic inequalities experienced by this group. Further, adults ages 65 and older occupy more than 20% of New Jersey’s population in coastal counties that directly border the Atlantic Ocean. Individuals who are impoverished and/or elderly are particularly vulnerable following natural disasters.

As the regions and populations impacted by coastal hazards increase, so does the need for long-term coastal planning solutions. Although the best approach to coastal infrastructure varies widely, a combination of natural and engineered infrastructure provides sustainable, cost-effective approaches to coastal management.

Josephine O’Grady is an MPP degree candidate at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. In the New Jersey State Policy Lab summer internship program, Josephine investigated factors affecting coastal hazard risk perception.