ASBURY PARK- The state of the shore is strong, the interim head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection [NJDEP] said, ahead of the unofficial start of the summer season.
The annual State of the Shore presentation was held in Asbury Park on Thursday, offering a wide-ranging review on how the Jersey Shore was impacted through the winter storm season and what could be expected going forward. Shawn LaTourette, the acting commissioner of the NJDEP who before the event flew over the shore to get a birds-eye of the condition of the beaches, made a prediction almost certain to come to fruition.
“I believe that the state of the shore is strong, not just because of what we saw in the sky this morning which was, on balance, beaches in good repair – but from our monitoring, excellent water quality,” Mr. LaTourette said as visitors, getting an early start to weekend festivities, made their way onto the beach in Asbury Park.
The 19th annual State of the Shore report presentation was held on May 21 at McLoone’s Supper Club, and included NJDEP scientists, and the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, an organization dedicated to preserving coastal and marine resources.
During the event, the acting commissioner made a point to high beach access in New Jersey. Shore municipalities are mandated, through the Public Trust Doctrine, to ensure that beach access is made to the population as a whole and not just to local residents.
“Accessibility is key, equitable access is necessary and inequitable access should not be tolerated,” he said. “We have to make sure that everyone can enjoy our natural resources, and I take that as such a huge priority.”
While Mr. LaTourette’s main focus was on the quality of the state’s beachfront and the work done over the years to secure beaches from flooding, there are storm clouds on the horizon. Climate change, he said, is a risk to shore communities and the economy of the Jersey Shore as a whole. Among the most precarious areas feeling the brunt are communities in the south of the state, around Delaware Bay in which homes are “falling into the sea as we speak.”
“We have to do our part in saving ourselves and our communities,” he said. “The sea level is rising, at a greater rate in New Jersey than in many other places on the planet. We have to take care in planning and land use management.
“We have to make sure that what we build today stands the test of time,” Mr. LaTourettee added, going on to say that the governor has directed the NJDEP to look at land-use regulations in coastal and flood hazard zones to plan for climate change.
“The risk isn’t going away and we as a society need to have every resource we need to protect everything that we have.”
As in previous years, this year’s State of the Shore report was complied by Jon K Miller, a coastal process specialist at the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium. He is also a research associate professor at Stevens Institute of Technology.
In his report, Mr. Miller states that the outlook for summer 2021 is “decidedly more positive” due to a mild winter storm season and “proactive efforts by federal, state and local governments” to ensure that beaches were in shape to welcome summer tourists.
The majority of winter storms did not have significant coastal flooding, according to the report, with storm surge failing to reach the moderate flood level, which is seven feet above the mean low watermark. In total, water levels exceeded the minor flooding threshold for 62 hours this past year, and the moderate flooding threshold for five hours.
From September to early February, there was at least one minor flooding event occurring each month. These minor flood events, however, form “a somewhat concerning pattern,” Mr. Miller’s report states, as they occurred when storm surge was less than two feet.
“This indicates that relatively minor storms are having proportionally greater impact due to factors such as sea-level rise,” the report said.
Using data from the U.S. National and Atmospheric Administration, The Weather Channel, Colorado State University, The University of Arizona and North Carolina State University, the report predicts that the 2021 hurricane season will be “active” as there is an unlikelihood of El Nino conditions developing in a Pacific and the warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the sub tropical Atlantic Ocean.
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