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Rising Seas, Regulations Push Poor New Jersey Residents to Move Inland

Brian Padden
The devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy last year along the northeastern coastline of the United States has convinced many skeptics that global warming and rising sea levels are now a real and present danger. The state of New Jersey is spending millions of dollars to build up sea walls and sand dunes to protect popular beaches but, in some poor coastal communities people are being urged to flee their homes and move inland.

William Bowen is the oldest living resident of Money Island in New Jersey. He remembers a time when there was a wide beach in front of his home.

Now workers are helping him replace the small sand embankment that was washed away by Hurricane Sandy last year.  He says neither the storm damage nor the encroaching sea will make him leave his home.   

 “I am here to stay, okay?  I love it here. This is my roots," he said. "I have some problems with being here at my age. I’m 85. And where am I going to go?”

Money Island is not an island. It's a small village of modest homes and trailers in the wetlands of southern New Jersey where the Delaware River meets the Atlantic Ocean.  

Mayor Robert Campbell says ever since Hurricane Sandy there seems to be a concerted effort by regulatory agencies to force residents to move away from the coastline. Houses located in flood zones must be elevated. He says the county is imposing stricter sewage and septic standards, forcing residents to spend thousands of dollars to upgrade their systems.

“I don’t know what their agenda is but they are using all the regulatory powers that they have to scare and intimidate people along the bay and make them want to sell out to programs like Blue Acres,” he said.

Blue Acres is state program to buy houses in floods zones.  Renee Brecht, who is with the environmental organization The American Littoral Society, has been urging many in Money Island to move.  She's against governments spending millions of dollars to protect a small number of houses from rising sea levels.  

“I mean you can put up big sea walls and so forth but those things a lot of times will not only cost an enormous amount of money for tax payers but they also will only be a short term solution," she said. "So 20, 30 years down the road you’re back in the same position.”

Brecht says she would like to make much of the bay area a natural preserve like the Nature Conservancy’s restoration project in nearby South Cape May.

That project received some government funding and turned 86 hectares of abandoned homes into a wildlife habitat that protects the community from storms like Sandy.

“The dune actually held which was wonderful and protected the local town from the storm water coming in, the storm surge,” said Adrianna Zito Livingston, a project coordinator with the Nature Conservancy.

She says it will cost $35 million to maintain the Cape May preserve over the next 50 years. Which leaves many in Money Island wondering why it is worthwhile to spend millions to return these areas to nature but not to help the people who live there.

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