Last week, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora introduced A-3725; legislation which seeks to create a new state entity known as the New Jersey Coastal Commission. This bill, much like those introduced in prior legislative sessions (2016: A-2642, 2014: A-2117, S-64, and 2012: A-3920) would create a new state government entity and task it with the planning and enforcement of various environmental laws within the coastal areas of Atlantic, Cape May, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean counties.
The League opposes this bill because it would undermine and usurp local discretion of land use and zoning prerogatives. At the same time, the bill creates an additional and unnecessary level of state bureaucracy which would take on certain enforcement and oversight functions currently being performed by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Specifically, this bill would remove local authority over land use and development and instead vest such authority exclusively with a state-appointed Coastal Commission. According to the bill, the proposed Coastal Commission would have exclusive authority over:
- All planning activities and all approvals related to applications for development;
- All activities related to land use permitting and approvals;
- All beach erosion and shore protection projects undertaken or proposed to be undertaken; and
- The oversight of disbursement and use of any federal monies received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or any other source related to reconstruction from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. (See, Section 6a(1) through (4))
In addition, the Coastal Commission would be tasked with creating a coastal management plan that all local and state governments would be mandated to comply with. Also, the Coastal Commission would be vested with the authority to review and approve or disapprove each county and municipality’s master plan, development regulations, and capital improvement program. (See, Section 11c(1)) And, should the Commission decide that the county or municipality is not in conformance with the Commission’s coastal management plan and practices, the Commission is directed to withhold all grants, loans or loan guarantees. (See, Section 11e(1))
The Coastal Commission would be made up of 19 voting members serving five-year terms. The members consist of:
- Two residents, appointed by the Governor, from each of the effected counties (Atlantic, Cape May, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean), for a total of ten.
- No more than five of those appointed can be of the same political party, and;
- Five must be county officials, holding elected office at the time of appointment, and;
- Five must be municipal officials, holding elected office at the time of appointment.
- Nine residents of the State, appointed by the Governor,
- With three being appointed upon the advice and consent of the Senate, and;
- Three upon the recommendation of the Senate President, and;
- Three being upon the recommendation of the Speaker of the General Assembly. (See, Section 5)
This bill is a reaction to Superstorm Sandy, and while it attempts to provide a means of achieving short-term and long-term goals of mitigating life and property loss along the Garden State’s coastline, it fails to recognize the strides already made. In the time since Sandy devastated our shore communities in 2012, municipal and county officials have worked tirelessly with the State and Federal government to ensure the scale of loss brought by Superstorm Sandy would never be seen again, even in face of stronger storms. These efforts have included, beach replenishment, redevelopment and planning changes with a focus on storm-resiliency, along with more general storm preparedness, just to name a few.
Local government officials in conjunction with the existing government agencies are already well into the planning and implementation of coastal management. The creation of a Coastal Commission to usurp these responsibilities would only serve to setback and undermine the strides already taken and constrain future planning efforts.
Contact: Frank Marshall, Esq., League Staff Attorney, FMarshall@njslom.org , 609-695-3481 x137.