Stories From The Field

Planning for Sea Level Rise Adaptation at the Site Scale in New Jersey

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Issue

Providing public access to coastal resources in the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary, the most urban estuary in the nation, is a challenge, and this task will become more difficult with sea level rise. While many valuable large-scale efforts to plan for sea level rise exist, there are limited examples of planning for sea level rise adaptation at specific sites. This kind of specific information can be important when towns or municipalities need to make decisions at the site scale, as well as at the landscape scale.

Process

To address this issue, the New York-New Jersey Harbor and Estuary Program worked with Great Ecology to use a combination of GIS and site visits to assess vulnerability and provide recommendations at three publicly accessible waterfront recreation areas on the Raritan River in New Jersey: Woodbridge, Laurence Harbor, and Donaldson Park. Digital Coast data were instrumental in the GIS portion of the sea level rise vulnerability assessment through the mapping of overall vulnerability and vulnerable areas within sites. After assessing each site’s vulnerability, the New York-New Jersey Harbor and Estuary Program presented the information and recommendations to elected officials, Middlesex county planners, the Community Advisory Group for the Raritan Bay Slag Superfund Site (Old Bridge Park), Environmental Protection Agency staff members working on the superfund site, and others.

Impact

This project provided a platform for discussion of how sea level rise might affect communities at the local scale. For all three sites, the information offers an understanding of vulnerabilities and potential resilience measures; it is up to the county and towns to adopt the measures. For example, at Laurence Harbor, suggestions were considered by Environmental Protection Agency staff members working on site, and the possibility of softening the shoreline after removal of the contaminated seawall was presented to the community for consideration. The Woodbridge site design was also revisited with sea level rise in mind, and changes will be considered before construction. At Donaldson Park, recommendations related to management of the site and specific structures were made (e.g., increasing vegetated edge and reducing mowing to decrease erosion) so that adjustments could be considered by the county.

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Raritan River during a king tide in Donaldson Park. Photo: Matthew Bradley, Middlesex County
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