Ready for next time? Rethinking the Jersey Shore after Sandy

 A bulldozer on Long Beach Island moves sand to restore the dunes that were swept away by Hurricane Sandy. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

A bulldozer on Long Beach Island moves sand to restore the dunes that were swept away by Hurricane Sandy. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

This post is updated now with the full list of forums. 

For the last year, a horde of Jersey Shore property owners have been muttering an F-word under their breath.

An F-acronymn, actually. As in FEMA – short for Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Post-Sandy, people down the Shore have had many complaints about FEMA – confusing rules, late-arriving checks and, above all, those flood maps.

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FEMA issued revised maps last week, which sharply reduced the size of the highest-risk flood zones and let many homeowners sleep easier.

So perhaps this is a moment to invite some calmer discussion about how to respond long-term to the lessons of Sandy – and Irene before her.

Compared to New York City, the Jersey dialogue – fueled by anti-FEMA rage and Gov. Christie’s fiercely impatient pragmatism – so far has been short on clear-eyed consideration of long-term options.

You could boil those down, in simplest terms, to:  rebuild, rethink or retreat.

Rebuild, as in get people back in their homes and shore towns back in business, pronto.  Then worry about better emergency procedures (such as, don’t park the trains in a flood plain) to reduce the toll from the next storm.

Rethink, as in get some new rules about where and how to build along the shore, to steer development away from the most vulnerable spots.

Retreat, as in realize that, with climate change and sea level rise, the jig is up for the Shore as we know and love it, so it’s time to begin moving inland, slowly, strategically, bit by bit.

This dialogue is not primarily about technical questions, about engineering – though people sometimes pretend that it is.

It’s really about values.

The German philosopher Hegel once made this wise observation: Tragedy arises not from the clash of good vs. evil, but of good vs. good. In others words, two values – each laudable in its own right – can come into painful tension.

That kind of clash is happening up and down the Shore. Individual property rights vs. community needs. Creating jobs now vs. careful planning for the long haul.  Honoring the role the Shore plays in thousands of families’ narratives about who they are vs. responding to the urgency of the evidence on climate change. On and on.

That’s why the New Jersey Recovery Fund, a consortium of foundations, has asked WHYY to convene community forums to help people who care about the Shore sift through the clashing values and options.

We call the project: Ready for Next Time? Rethinking the Shore After Sandy.

The first forum will be held July 15 here at WHYY. (The idea there is that plenty of folks in the Philadelphia area have a stake in what happens at the Shore, because their families own vacation homes or they vacation there regularly.) Other forums aimed at residents of Shore communities will be held in Cape May, Atlantic and Ocean counties during the summer and fall.

Here’s the full rundown on the forums:

Monday, July 15 – WHYY, 150 North Sixth St., Philadelphia – 7 p.m., doors open at 6:30

Tuesday, July 30 – Middle Township HIgh School, 300 East Atlantic Ave., Cape May Court House, 6:45 p.m., doors open at 6

Monday, Aug. 5 – Atlantic Cape Community College, 5100 Black Horse Pike, Mays Landing, 6:45 p.m., doors open at 6

Tuesday, Aug. 27, St. Francis Community Center, 4700 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach Township, 12:45 p.m., doors open at noon

Tuesday, Aug. 27, Tuckerton Seaport Museum, 120 W. Main St., Tuckerton, 6:45 p.m., doors open at 6 p.m.

To learn more and register to attend, visit the project’s sign-up Web page

What will happen at the forums?

You’ll get a chance to sit down with other people who care about the Shore just as you do, though perhaps from a different perspective.  And you’ll take part in a moderated discussion about the long-term strategies being discussed for the show. What do you like about each one, or not like? What scares you? What inspires you? What tradeoffs are you willing to make, giving us a little of X to get a little more of Y?

We’re working with our long-time partners in civic dialogue, the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, to craft the discussion guide and to provide the professional moderators for the session.

We’re also partnering on this project with other New Jersey organizations that have had post-Sandy work funded by the New Jersey Recovery Fund, which pools philanthropic resources from several foundations.

Those partners include:

Creative New Jersey
The Citizens Campaign
Sustainable Jersey
Jersey Shore Hurricane News

The yield from our forums, the insights, ideas and concerns expressed, will be shared with those partners to help guide them in the work they do through the New Jersey Recovery Fund.

In other words, our work will lay groundwork for their projects.

So far, it seems a promising collaboration.

To this point, its my sense that an understandable and mostly laudable concern about getting relief aid swiftly to those most damaged by the storm and to prop up the Shore’s tourism-driven economy in time for this summer season has crowded out the longer-term conversation that’s needed.

This opportunity to slow down, take stock and think more carefully about what makes sense in the long term should not be squandered.

Hope to see you at the forums.  More detail on the forums at the Shore will be coming this week on NewsWorks and on the sign-up page on



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