Pier-development bill clears Senate panel

TRENTON – The Senate Environment and Energy Committee released three more bills today dealing with Sandy reconstruction. They dealt with a prioritization of projects, development on piers in high-hazard areas, and property valuation when dune work is done.

S2600: This bill deals with how shore protection projects are funded. The vote was 4-1.

Funding must be consistent with a priority system set up by the Legislature and the bill directs the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt such a system.

The bill requires DEP to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for each project on the shore protection project priority list and demonstrate that it provides a net financial benefit to the state.

Sen. Bob Smith said the priority list never was drawn up as it should have been, and this bill seeks to get the process back on track.

But Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, said he feared such a priority system would simply not work as intended. He also urged that public access be among elements considered before a project is eligible for public funding.

Sen. Jennifer Beck, who voted no, raised a what-if, such as “What if we have a project in Long Branch ready to go,” but it doesn’t meet the priority list.

She said there could be a problem with the inability to meet matching funds.  “We’re going to need state resources to match some of the federal money,’’ she said.

She said she shared the concerns over public access, but also has concerns that necessary projects may be delayed.

“As long as there is federal money coming in, you’ve gotta provide it,’’ she said in reference to public access.

There are towns in her district that have private beaches and in the past have refused federal dollars but now are working on possible easements.

Sen. Jim Whelan said he would like to have the public access element as strong as possible in the law but he said there is a practical element they also must consider: The state has to rebuild.

Beck said the way she sees the priority listing element, the Army Corps of Engineers – not the state Shore Protection Fund – is driving the process.

But Smith said the state is the initiator and Whelan said the Corps responds to what the state brings it.

S2680: This bill would allow for residential development – hotels, motels, mixed use – and commercial development on piers over rivers in coastal high hazard areas. It passed unanimously.

Currently, this type of development is prohibited in urban areas outside Atlantic City.

The legislation states this would help revitalize economies of some of the urban areas around the state.

It has a bipartisan sponsorship of Sens. Nicholas Sacco, (D-32), North Bergen, and Joe Kyrillos, (R-13), Middletown.

Sacco, who also is North Bergen mayor, said if the state is going to restart the economy, this is a needed tool for towns. “Right now there are developments ready to go,’’ he said, but for the fact regulations bar them.

“These are beneficial’’ in bringing in ratables and helping the economy, he said.

The American Littoral Society opposed the bill. “It defies common sense,’’ Executive Director Tim Dillingham said, that after seeing what Sandy did, the state would allow this type of development.

And Dave Pringle of the N.J. Environmental Federation said this bill “would purposely, knowingly put people in harm’s way.’’

And Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club said that while he would certainly like to see brownfields on waterfronts rehabilitated, he also did not want to see “Hudson County turned into Bangladesh.”

But Sacco said this type of development already is permitted in Atlantic City despite fears about the high-hazard conditions.

And Steve Corodemus, former Assemblyman from Monmouth County, said this bill has limited applications to projects on major rivers, not coastal areas.

Its limited focus will prevent life and property from being jeopardized, he said.

“This will not open up a floodgate of development anywhere,’’ he said, but would be targeted for about six locations in Hudson County for the most part.

Sacco said he would agree to an amendment that the bill only could apply to existing piers, making it even more narrowly focused.

Sen. Linda Greenstein supported moving it out of committee, but wants to explore it further.

S2599:   This bill would adjust the Eminent Domain Act so that when an easement is being acquired to allow for dune construction the increased value of the property must be factored in. It passed unanimously.

Applicable elements would include increased safety as a result of the dune work.

Also, any reduced value must be considered as a result of condemnation.

Sen. Bob Smith raised a caution that the bill may not be “constitutionally kosher.’’

Earlier story:

Senate panel releases bill allowing county control of beaches

  Pier-development bill clears Senate panel