More must be done to protect the Jersey Shore

At long last, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and New Jersey are starting work on a comprehensive back bay flooding plan, but they are lumbering along waiting for bags of cash from the federal government and thinking about work as though they have the luxury of time on their side.

They don’t. The winter and spring storm seasons are just ahead, and damage bills will be piling up. Even some high tides send bay water sloshing into streets, homes, and businesses. If there’s another extreme weather event like Hurricane Sandy of 2012, the state could be devastated once again.

The lesson of Sandy should have been that any damage that can be prevented should be.

But at a recent public meeting on the overarching study, the Army Corps said the plan could take three years to develop. Bay dwellers shouldn’t have to wait for the federal government to come back with a full-blown plan when there are precautions that can and should be accelerated now.

Environmentalists have long recommended building more wetlands to soak up storm surges and tidal flooding.

The smart planning group, NJ Future, says the state can create a conservation zone along the shore, where it would limit development. That’s a good idea, because it is already hard enough to protect existing structures.

The state and towns should upgrade building and zoning codes with an eye toward resilience, and stop coddling developers who don’t want to invest in safer structures.

The state and towns should insist that new bulkheads are high enough to withstand storm surges as well as increased flooding. Even a moderate rain can send water levels high enough to cause problems.

Towns have to build better drainage systems. Antique storm sewer systems are partly to blame for so much of the bayside flooding along the Jersey Shore.

These good ideas and others have been swamped by Gov. Christie, who has been an on-again and off-again climate change denier, depending which office he was seeking. But the good news for beach lovers is that Christie will be out of office in 2018.

For too long, back bay areas have been ignored, and yet those areas contain the highest density of year-round residents.

By 2050, the mean high water line along the coast is projected to rise 18 inches. There just might be enough time to stop new building, protect existing structures, and even let some buildings in the most flood-prone areas return to nature.

Waiting for the federal government, soon to be controlled by President-elect Donald Trump, a climate change denier who is hostile to protecting natural resources, is pure folly. New Jersey must rely on its own wealth of talent and knowledge of the shoreline to protect itself.