All parties seem to agree that the key now is ensuring this isn’t just another study that sits on a shelf. “Implementation is key,” said Chris Sturm, senior policy analyst at New Jersey Future. “And keeping sort of a high level of visibility on how progress is being made is going to be essential. You know, the report needs to be more than a set of recommendations. It needs to be something that’s acted on.”
Indeed, a report of this type was issued by a federal task force after the 1993 flooding along the Mississippi River. It contained dozens of recommendations to strengthen the National Flood Insurance Program and adopt stricter flood zone standards, but 15 years later, the Assistant Secretary of the Army wrote to Congress that little or no progress had been made.
Sweeping recommendations also came out after Hurricane Katrina. The levy system was rebuilt in response to those recommendations, but many other proposals to protect the Gulf Coast have yet to yield results.
HUD Secretary Donovan said he’s personally committed to make sure that doesn’t happen this time. According to President Obama’s Executive Order that created the task force, its report is nonbinding and unenforceable, so there are no mechanisms in place to enact penalties if New Jersey or other states were to violate any of the findings.
But many of the recommendations will be carried out on the federal level, with or without the participation or cooperation of state and local officials. Donovan also said various mechanisms are in place to guarantee that all of the findings are put into practice, including detailed action plans for each one and quarterly meetings of the president’s entire cabinet to provide oversight.
Implementing the plan over the long term is sure to be costly, and this report doesn’t promise any new federal funds for improvements over the long-term, but Donovan said there’s a great financial incentive to taking action. “For every dollar that we spend on smart mitigation today, we save four dollars the next time a storm hits,” he said.
Plus, he added, he expects his feet will be held to the fire by residents and elected officials in areas still recovering from the storm. “The people of this region deserve no less,” he said, and the recommendations are far too important to ignore.
Scott Gurian is the Sandy Recovery Writer for NJ Spotlight, an independent online news service on issues critical to New Jersey, makes its in-depth reporting available to NewsWorks.