TRENTON – Senate Budget Committee members were told Monday that the Department of Environmental Protection is coping in a post-Superstorm Sandy, FY 2014 environment with essentially flat funding and personnel levels.
DEP, according to Bob Martin, Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, is committed to rebuilding the Jersey Shore through buyouts of flood-damaged properties, continued work on debris removal, working with the Army Corps of Engineers on a uniform Shore protection system, and getting waterways reopened for boating season.
Martin told the panel that about $250 million will be available for buyouts of approximately 1,000 homes, and that it makes more sense to buy out rather than rebuild certain flood-prone properties.
Part of that involves trying to buy out blocks or neighborhoods to create a buffer zone, rather than buying out individual homes on an isolated basis, he said.
The issue of signed easements was addressed as the state rebuilds and makes the Shore more storm-worthy.
“We need to reassure people that this is not government coming in and taking a land grab,’’ committee Chairman Sen. Paul Sarlo said.
Martin said in agreement that the bottom line is that this is not about public access, it is about building dunes that can protect properties.
Sarlo said people need to be assured public access will be maintained.
And in response to a question from Sen. Jennifer Beck, Martin affirmed that there is no intention of using eminent domain, the program is voluntary.
“We expect the vast majority of people to sign those easements,’’ Martin said, so dune and other beach replenishment work can get under way.
Martin also said, in response to a question, that he expects some of the potential $52 million in settlement dollars from the Passaic River pollution to be seen in FY14.
He said the state is in discussions with most of the responsible parties as a result of the litigation involving Occidental Chemical Corp.
He also said that 114 samples taken two weeks ago along the entire Jersey coast came back showing very good water quality, so there is no concern of waste water contaminating the Shore waters.
Sen. Linda Greenstein questioned the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars from environmental programs into the general fund.
Among them, she said, are $152 million from clean energy, $16 million from a spill compensation fund, and $21 million from a recycling fund.
Martin said all of the programs she mentioned continue to operate, and that money going into the general fund also goes out again to operate programs.
For FY14, he said the department will have a flat staffing level of 2,812 and the same state funding of about $246 million.