Report: N.J. will have to spend $25 billion on coastal defenses

Nuisance flooding is a part of life in New Jersey's coastal communities.

Nuisance flooding is a part of life in New Jersey's coastal communities. (Bill Barlow for WHYY)

A new report predicts New Jersey will have to shell out billions of dollars by 2040 to protect coastal communities from sea level rise.

The report compiled by the Center for Climate Integrity found that the Garden State will have to spend $25 billion to construct sea walls in areas with public infrastructure that are in danger of chronic flooding.

The price tag for coastal defenses across the contiguous United States will be $400 billion, the group said.

“That’s essentially trying to build the equivalent of the interstate highway system in roughly half the time,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, a project of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

Although there are a variety of ways governments can protect against flooding, Wiles said the group used sea walls as a proxy for all coastal defense methods because it was the cheapest and would produce the most conservative estimate.

Bob Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, agreed that sea walls are not appropriate in every coastal community. Some New Jersey cities and towns have resorted to beach replenishment projects and buyouts.

But he said cities, counties, and states will have to take a more proactive approach to combat sea level rise as climate conditions worsen.

“For instance, if you look at coastal communities, in some cases they’re experiencing ten times as much tidal flooding as they were a half-century ago,” Kopp said, “and that’s only going to accelerate.”

Wiles suggested one way to afford the staggering cost of coastal protection would be to require oil and gas companies, which he said contributed to climate change and exacerbated chronic flooding, to chip in.

“We shouldn’t think about this as: either taxpayers pay it or we don’t do it. We should say, well, the polluters need to pay their fair share of this too,” Wiles said. “If they do, we can save a lot more communities than we otherwise would if we made grandma on Social Security foot the bill for all this.”

The idea to force companies that sell fossil fuels to contribute to the costs of dealing with climate change is not entirely new. A member of Toronto’s City Council wants to do that, but it hasn’t been adopted.

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