Responsible Rebuilding After Sandy, New Jersey Needs Climate Change Leadership

Responsible Rebuilding After Sandy

Taking Climate Change Seriously, The South Jersey Journal, and have published this as an oped and open letter to Governor Christie.  The Star Ledger published the OPED as well

Four Walls and a Roof quoted from the OPED “many New Jerseyans- among other concerned parties- are urging the New Jersey Coastal Commission and various state and local authorities to take a more proactive stance. In particular, Andrew Willner, past NY/NJ Baykeeper former scholar at Monmouth University’s Urban Coast Institute has called on Governor Christie and the  Commission to “make the hard choices…to retreat from the coast when necessary.”

NJ needs climate change leadership

NJ needs climate change leadership

The following link is the letter sent to Governor Christie Sandy Memo to Christie


The people of New Jersey have come through a hard time; Hurricane Sandy devastated Sandy NJour communities, businesses and homes. I want to thank the Governor for his strong leadership through it all. His swift action in ordering a mandatory evacuation saved lives, and his bipartisanship resulted in a comprehensive, coordinated state and federal response.

However, I am disappointed in the Governor’s failure, so far, to lead us in preparing for the dangers ahead. The Atlantic Ocean continues to rise and warm, making hurricanes stronger and every storm surge more harmful. Irene and Sandy were back-to-back warnings. Now is the time to prepare for the fiercer weather of the very near future.

Now is the time to launch an innovative N.J. Coastal Commission to address climate change and oversee the rebuilding effort. This body would assure the future safety of our communities, and the protection of our coasts against intensifying storms.

The N.J. Coastal Commission would use the best science and technical knowledge to implement climate change adaptation strategies. It would help us rebuild smarter, strengthening building codes, and generating strategies for flood-proofing homes, towns, and vital but vulnerable buildings, such as hospitals, police and fire stations.

The Commission would make sure our nuclear plants and other energy infrastructure; harbors, roads, railways, and airports; drinking water supplies; and wastewater treatment plants were built to withstand more violent storms.

It would oversee the re-mapping of our coasts to anticipate new trouble spots, suggesting
images “hard infrastructure,” such as sea walls, and “soft infrastructure,” like expanded coastal Islands, oyster reefs, dunes and greenbelts to reduce storm surges. It would help us to make the hard choices, retreating from the coast where necessary.

The N.J. Coastal Commission would create coastal resiliency and establish thorough storm emergency preparedness measures, anticipating and preventing future harm.

I also encourage the Governor to re-engage with other Northeastern state governors in
the Regional Green House Gas Initiative to address Irene, Sandy and the “new normal” which threatens us with more extreme storms. It is high time that our state took responsibility for our carbon contribution to climate change and made efforts to curb it.

We live in dangerous time, when “business as usual” will not suffice.That way leads to certain pain, peril and economic ruin. The more visionary path, to A Bright Green Future for our state is far more challenging. It is a road we must build as we walk it.

The most recent storms to impact New Jersey harshly pointed out flaws in our current development patterns. Hurricane Sandy, for all its devastation, was just a Category 1 storm, while last year’s Hurricane Irene was “only” a tropical storm. The landfall of far more ferocious, future storms is not only possible, but likely.

The unprecedented destruction from Hurricane Sandy and the public policy challenges of Wetlandsits aftermath make this a critically important transformative period in New Jersey history, and a singular moment to demonstrate leadership. I urge Governor Christie to seize this opportunity to initiate bold action resulting in lasting protections for New Jersey’s economy, environment, energy, and equity.

As the NY/NJ Baykeeper, I learned to see the New Jersey/New York Bioregion not as a collection of states or towns, competing industries or interests, but as a unified place. When seen from space our Bioregion is without seams. Its green mountains and hills feed thousands of tributaries, flowing into our magnificent estuary and the sea. Ours is a vulnerable state worth protecting, but protection now will take courageous leadership.





Saving the Bayonne Bridge and the NY/NJ Port

There are Less dangerous, Less Expensive Alternatives to Trying to Get Monster Ships to Inappropriate Ports

This Commentary was published in the Sunday January 20th Staten Island Advance and online, and now is available at   

bayonne bridge

The Bayonne Bridge from The Kill Van Kull

The Bayonne Bridge, an almost perfectly engineered arched bridge, is one of the most beautiful in the harbor. Some Port interests allege that the bridge is an obstacle to large container ships passing under it on the way to and from the ports in Newark, Elizabeth, and Staten Island, but in fact the proposed raising of the bridge is New York and New Jersey’s “bridge to nowhere.” 

The Coast Guard will hold two public meetings in early February on the $1 billion Port Authority plan to raise the Bayonne Bridge from its current 151 to 215 feet to allow the newest generation of container ships to pass beneath the span en route to ports in Newark and Elizabeth.

The larger vessels are expected to begin traveling to East Coast ports from Asia after a widening of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014. The Coast Guard has also released a Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA), which addresses potential environmental and
post panamaxsocioeconomic impact of the raising of the historic bridge.

This $1 billion + boondoggle to jack up the bridge is predicted to be completed by 2019 at the earliest. I guess there have been sillier, or more expensive, and/or less needed projects proposed. But I am hard-pressed to understand the logic behind and the zeal to move forward on this ridiculous project.

Mariners, in particular the pilots who have to navigate the narrow, rocky, dangerous channel called the Kill Van Kull, are adamant that the bridge is not the problem. The problem is the inappropriate location of the ports and the logistics of moving huge ships in a channel that was never envisioned to accommodate them.

 Common sense and the Port’s own studies show that there are less dangerous and less expensive alternatives to trying to get these monster ships to an inappropriate port, ships that based on the current glut of already built container ships, and the increased price of petroleum are unlikely to call on the Port of NY/NJ any time soon.

 Unlike the European Union, the United States does not have a comprehensive port plan.
Therefore, each port on the East Coast, from Florida to Nova Scotia, is competing for the next generation of very large container ships. Instead of designating certain ports with OCT_Ferries__and__SS_Tynedeep, unobstructed facilities as feeder or hub ports and creating a fleet of very fast smaller ships to move container cargo to less accessible, but no less important ports in a coordinated way, U.S. ports are competing with each other by building duplicate facilities for the few very large ships that are likely to call on East Coast ports in the next 20 years.

 When the Army transferred the Military Ocean Terminal Bayonne (MOTBY) to the city of motbycranesBayonne, those of us with an interest in the port were heartened by the plans that included a state-of-the-art container terminal for the largest of the ships that may call on the Port of New York and New Jersey (the so-called post Panamax ships). The Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority asserted that it would bring a port developer on board who would raise $500 million for a new container port, bringing with it more than 3,000 jobs.

 The former MOTBY would be the closest port to deep channels. It would save billions of public dollars, avoid the height limitations of the Bayonne Bridge and reduce the significant environmental impact that would be caused by continuing to attempt to deepen the dangerous, narrow Kill Van Kull and dredging more of the contaminated sediments of Newark Bay.  The new port on the harbor side of Bayonne could be built using the newest, most efficient container management technology, including alternative fuel and electric vehicles and direct transfer of containers from ship to trains or ships to container barges, or ships to container rail cars on barges.

 And a new container port at MOTBY would be close to Global Terminal in Jersey City and the Greenville rail yards. The MOTBY port would be positioned to link easily with the Port Authority’s reinvigorated cross-harbor rail float system and cross-harbor railroad if the plan is completed as designed.  Taking all that into account, MOTBY is the premier maritime asset in the harbor and one of the most valuable maritime properties in the world.

 But before the real estate meltdown, the Bayonne Redevelopment Authority planned to use the MOTBY site for high-rise housing and offices, with a yacht harbor in the last huge graving dry dock (a space to repair ships) in the harbor. Only a minimum amount of port commerce space was set aside, for what appears to be one cruise-ship berth. The MOTBY dry dock is one of the world’s largest and is the only one remaining in New York Harbor. But does it make sense to lose a significant number of good-paying, port-related jobs for the short term and questionable benefits of housing or the loss of public access and working waterfront?

 I am convinced that if cooler heads can prevail, a compromise can still be reached, one in which the significant acreage at MOTBY, including but not limited to the 130 acres the Port Authority has committed to purchase,  may be used as a container port and for port-related commerce, reserving some smaller portion for housing and recreation. The port and housing are not incompatible. Some of the most desirable housing in Seattle overlooks the port and its complex and interesting operations.

 This solution would not only save one of the most beautiful bridges in the port, but also would be a more efficient use of the up to $2 billion that it will likely cost to raise the Bayonne Bridge and the unnecessary dredging and blasting of the Kill Van Kull and Newark Bay channels. 



Peak Water

Peak Water and the Great Unraveling

peak water

Click here  peak water for website to see a PDF of a presentation on Peak Water and its implications. And here peak water narrative to read a narrative that supports the slides.

Human beings have depended on access to water since the earliest days of civilization, but with 7 billion people on the planet as of October 31, exponentially expanding urbanization and development are driving demand like never before. Continue reading

Local Food and Urban Agriculture

The inevitable decreasing availability of cheap fossil fuel will eventually make the transportation of food over long distances economically unfeasible, and the phrase “local food” will acquire an urgent, vital meaning beyond the current limited lifestyle implications. Local food will become less about maintaining eco-correctness and more about whether we’re going to have enough to eat! Urban agriculture is one solution, as is a food security plan that includes low carbon transportation and a new relationship with city dwellers and the farmers in the food shed.  These are a few examples of working urban farms, and a proposal for a “foodshed” preservation plan similar to the watershed plan that NYC negotiated with upstate farmers to avoid the need for expensive filtration plants.  

One of the world leaders in urban agriculture and inner city food security is Will Allen’s Will AllenGrowing Power. “Growing Power is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities.  Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.”

bgfarm_notitleIn the NYC Bioregion one of the leaders in urban roof top agriculture is Brooklyn Grange Farms. “Brooklyn Grange is the leading rooftop farming and intensive green roofing business in the US. We operate the world’s largest rooftop soil farms, located on two roofs in New York City, and grow over 40,000 lbs of organically-cultivated produce per year. In addition to growing and distributing fresh local vegetables and herbs, Brooklyn Grange also provides urban farming and green roof consulting and installation services to clients worldwide, and we partner with numerous non-profit organizations throughout New York to promote healthy and strong local communities.”

Another start up is City Food, CityFood™ is a “triple bottom line” vertically integrated e8212c4f664f8425b4fdce2e17109768sustainable green business consulting firm and incubator focused on developing urban agricultural facilities, fostering  farm and  urban relationships and infrastructure and logistics for local food. 

Back Camera




“The greater Newark (NJ) Conservancy’s  1 acre urban farm on court street yielded almost 10,000 lbs of produce this year, and its 2.5 acre urban farm in the south ward will be coming online in the spring.  Their youth run farm stand has thrived as well.  Most of the produce we grew was sold through the farm stand to local residents.”

 The seminal question about food security for the NYC Bioregion is discussed in the “Take Action” page of this website and more specifically by slow moneySlow Money an organization  “advocating investing 50% of our money within 50 miles of our home, specifically in organic and sustainable  local food, farms, and processing.”



In order to get that locally grown food to market, there will have to be a low tech, low carbon, transportation system in place.  The Hudson River, the Bays and tributaries to New York/New Jersey Harbor, and the Long Island Sound are the “highways of the future” for sailing cargo vessels.  One such enterprise is the Vermont Sail Freight Project.cropped-crans21  

 A complementary proposal called HARVEST The Harbor and River Vessel Transport Company will be a short sea shipping business delivering local produce and seafood throughout the New York/New Jersey Harbor. HARVEST will be a “for benefit” company based on the Farm Boat concept in Seattle and the Island Market Boat in Maine.

old shoreline market

 Historically, thousands of vessels plied the waters to and from cities on the Harbor and the farming areas of New Jersey and the Hudson Valley delivering fresh local farm produce, fish, shellfish, and passengers to ports along the way. The Hudson River and the Harbor was once a bustling highway linking even the smallest communities into a web of regularly scheduled routes. Farmers, dairymen, and oystermen relied on this vibrant and diverse fleet of vessels to bring their goods to market and to receive supplies. The schooners, sloops, and steam boats provided a unique way of life for early inhabitants. For those who worked the inland waters of the Northeast, the romance of the sea was a common element in their lives.

Today, the water highways still exist and need to be reinvigorated.  Maintaining maritime trade routes is more than just a celebration of tradition. In a carbon constrained future sustainable water transport will be necessary and in the event of a regional disaster water-based community links can serve as vital infrastructure to the NY/NJ Harbor region.

NRDC’seat local Smarter Living site asks the question, “Like the idea of eating seasonal produce grown on regional farms but wonder what’s in season near you this week?”  And includes  search tools to find out where to get seasonal local foods and maps to nearby farmers’ markets and even includes directions by car, bike, walking and public transit. The site also has a smart phone application to help you locate what you are looking for.  .