Doin’ The Dunes: What Will They Cost? - Part III

Posted on December 2, 2013 by Joseph Manko

On June 13, I posted the first blog, in what has now become a series, initially called “Doin’ The Dunes: What Will They Cost?”, exploring the way in which New Jersey’s three branches of government intended to treat compensation for the easement agreements for the construction of dunes – New Jersey’s response to climate changes (e.g., Superstorm Sandy).  At the time, the New Jersey courts had determined that the landowner would be compensated for a partial obstruction of the ocean view without any reduction for the benefit received from the dune’s protection (called a “general”, not “special” benefit). 

On July 19, I posted the second blog, which described the New Jersey Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Borough of Harvey Cedars v. Karan, 214 N.J. 384 (2013) to reverse the prior precedents and recognize that dunes did confer storm protection as a “special benefit” to the subject landowner which would reduce the otherwise compensable amount for that portion of the award for the partial loss of the ocean view.  Since the lower courts had not calculated the amount of the special benefit, the Court remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of the amount of the “special benefit” and its resultant reduction of the amount of the takings claim.  (The case was reported to have settled with the Karans’ receiving $1.00 for the partial loss of ocean view and the parties “acknowledgement that municipalities cannot enact or enforce laws or regulations that would interfere with the state’s plans to build dunes as part of flood mitigation effort.” (Phila Inquirer, PP A-1, A-9 (Nov 9, 2013)).

In the aftermath of Karan, the Appellate Division had an opportunity to revisit the issue (of the amount of compensation to be paid for the dune’s reduction of ocean view) in Petrozzi v. City of Ocean City, argued on September 9 and decided on October 28, 2013.  Although the facts in the Petrozzi case are critical to the decision, the Court was asked to determine whether a municipality’s failure to maintain a 3 foot above sea level elevation of the dunes justified the payment of additional compensation.  In this case, Ocean City had obtained easement agreements with a number of its residents in which the City obligated itself to maintain the 3 foot elevation.  Subsequent legislation in New Jersey, administered by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), required municipalities to obtain a Coastal Areas Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) permit for the maintenance of dunes.  Several of the plaintiffs, who signed agreements with Ocean City before the law changed, asked the trial court to determine whether the impossibility of the City to perform the maintenance (NJDEP having denied the City’s permit application) constituted “reasonable unforeseen circumstances beyond its control”, such as to relieve it of its duty to maintain the 3 foot elevation level but make no further payments for the additional partial loss of ocean view (due to the dunes exceeding the 3 foot “cap”).  (City of Ocean City v. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, A-5199-06 (App. Div. September 26, 2008).  Ocean City argued that it was relieved of its maintenance obligation without having to make any further payment; the plaintiffs disagreed and filed suit. 

The Court acknowledged the general rule that where one party was excused from performing a contract due to unforeseen circumstances that made performance impracticable, the other party would generally be excused from its performance.  In this case, however, since the plaintiffs had given up their rights to additional compensation for partial loss of ocean view, in reliance upon the City’s promise to protect their ocean views above the 3 foot level, they argued that were it not for this reliance, Ocean City would have had to pay plaintiffs additional money for the additional partial loss of ocean view (i.e., above the 3 foot elevation). 

The Court agreed with the plaintiffs and remanded the case to the trial court to determine the additional compensation to be paid; however, citing Karan as precedent, it acknowledged that any such amount needed to be reduced by the “special benefit” conferred by the additional storm protection provided by the increased elevation of the dune. 

In its conclusion, the Court, referring to “the admonition in [Karan] that the quantifiable decrease in the value of their property – loss of view – should [be] set off by any quantifiable increase in its value – storm protection benefits.”  The bottom line is that the special benefit principle upheld in Karan is now the “law” in New Jersey. 

Connecticut Legislature Opens the Door to Increased Armoring of Coast

Posted on August 29, 2013 by Gregory Sharp

My prior post about the impacts of Storms Irene and Sandy on Connecticut  noted some of the policy challenges presented in the storms’ aftermath for state government in Connecticut and elsewhere in the Northeast.  The tremendous destruction of property resulting from these events brought home to many coastal property owners a previously unappreciated but significant conflict between property owners’ rights and state coastal policy.

Many property owners seeking to protect their property from future storm events learned to their consternation that regulatory policies adopted in the Connecticut Coastal Management Act (“CCMA”) more than 30 years ago largely precluded those activities.  During the past year, the legislature has taken some small steps to address this conflict and armor the shorefront where developed property is at risk of flooding.

Property rights advocates were successful in substantially modifying the CCMA’s strong policy bias against the use of structural solutions to prevent damage to property from coastal flooding.  Prior to this session’s amendments, the CCMA provided that structural solutions were to be avoided in order to maintain the natural relationship between eroding and depositional coastal landforms.

The only exceptions previously allowed were for those structural solutions which were “necessary and unavoidable” for the protection of infrastructure facilities (undefined but generally construed to mean roads, bridges and other public infrastructure), cemetery or burial grounds, water-dependent uses, or inhabited structures constructed as of January 1, 1995. 

These narrow exceptions provided no avenue for protection of commercial property, unless it met the “water-dependent use” definition.  Moreover, the exceptions provided only very narrow relief for residential property, because residential use is not defined as a “water dependent use.”  In addition, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection generally interpreted the term “inhabited structure” as applying only to the house, not accessory buildings, landscaping, etc.  As a result, homeowners were left with no ability to protect their property unless and until the house itself was in jeopardy, which in a storm scenario like Sandy came too late.

The General Assembly addressed these concerns in part by expanding the exceptions to include “commercial and residential structures and substantial appurtenances that are attached or integral thereto,” constructed as of January 1, 1995.  Structures built after the cut-off date presently have no options other than to elevate the structure.

How the DEEP will interpret these new provisions remains to be seen, but if the past is any indication, I would expect that the agency will construe them narrowly.

Doin’ the Dunes: What Will They Cost ? – Part II

Posted on July 19, 2013 by Joseph Manko

On June 13, 2013, I posted a blog regarding how to compensate New Jersey beach owners who have an easement condemned on their property to allow the Corps of Engineers to construct dunes.  In the blog, I indicated that the trial court and Appellate Division in New Jersey had excluded testimony on the value that the dunes would bring to the property as a “special benefit”, determining that dunes provided a “general benefit” for not only the property owner but all of the other owners who may be affected, as well as the state of New Jersey, and therefore would not be taken into account in determining the condemnation value for the easement.  At the same time, the New Jersey legislature was considering a bill that would specifically require recognition of these “special benefits” and Governor Christie was criticizing beach owners who would not cooperate in helping forestall the damages that such beachfront owners would incur from future “Sandy” storm events.

On Monday, July 8, 2013, the New Jersey Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, reversed the Appellate Division and remanded the case for the jury to consider the value of the protection afforded by the dune, a “special benefit”, which obviated the need for the legislature to speak to the issue. 

The bottom line is that in constructing dunes on the 127 mile coastline, the property owners are “not going to be paid a windfall for [their] easement[s]”, according to Governor Christie.

While it remains to be seen how the lower court will now value the easement, from the standpoint of protection against rising sea levels and catastrophic floods, the recognition that dunes will benefit coastal owners appears to this author to be a step in the right direction.  

A Blueprint for a Resilient New York City

Posted on July 17, 2013 by Gail Port

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency recently promulgated a 438-page report titled “A Stronger, More Resilient New York” (the “Resiliency Report”) in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s devastating destruction on October 29th, 2012. The Resiliency Report emphasizes the inevitable effects of climate change and rising sea levels, opening with a climate analysis conducted by the New York City Panel on Climate Change (“NYCPCC”). According to the NYCPCC, 25% of New York City’s land mass, home to 800,000, will be in the floodplain by 2050. The Resiliency Report is part of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, an unprecedented program initiated in 2007, which currently has 132 initiatives to make New York City (“NYC”) more sustainable and adaptable to the effects of climate change. Given the historic impact of Hurricane Sandy and the concern that future weather events could be just as devastating—or even worse—the Resiliency Report was commissioned to build on the momentum of PlaNYC.

The Resiliency Report contains over 250 proposals, implementation of which is estimated to cost $19.5 billion. Approximately $15 billion has been or is expected to be appropriated from federal and city sources, but the remainder of the required funding may be dependent on whether further aid will be available from the federal or state governments. Among other things, the Resiliency Report calls for the restoration of dunes, widening of beaches, and erection of localized surge barriers, levees, and floodwalls in particularly vulnerable areas. The Report also calls for amendment of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which currently only allows for premium reductions if the house is elevated, to allow for flood insurance premium reductions if the homeowner makes other flood-related improvements. Additionally, a Building Resiliency Task Force (established by the Mayor and City Council Speaker Quinn) recently issued a separate Building Resiliency Report, focusing in greater detail on building structural and infrastructure resiliency. The Building Resiliency Report has 33 specific recommendations based on four central themes: constructing stronger buildings, securing backup power, providing essential services, and developing building-specific emergency plans.

Numerous issues have already been raised regarding recommendations in the Resiliency Report. One such example is the controversial proposal of a SeaPort City, which has already spawned community resistance. SeaPort City would be an artificial expansion of the lower east side of Manhattan modeled after Battery Park City, which was highly successful in reducing flood-damage from Hurricane Sandy on the lower west side. Although it has been emphasized as a resiliency initiative, SeaPort City would serve the dual purposes of acting as a protective barrier and providing highly coveted residential and commercial real estate. Nearby South Street Seaport residents and businesses, which were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, argue that this massive landfill would harm wildlife and would have an adverse effect on preservation of the historic neighborhood. Since the plan for SeaPort City is still in its infancy, the costs for such a development have not been calculated into the already staggering $19.5 billion costs to implement the other Resiliency Report proposals.

The Resiliency Report opens with an invigorating foreword by Mayor Bloomberg, stating that “[w]e are a coastal city—and we cannot, and will not, abandon our waterfront.” In contrast, on the state level, Governor Cuomo’s floodplain buy-out program provides an incentive for private homeowners to relocate from the coastline. This $400 million purchase program offers to buy houses in flood-prone areas, specifically in Staten Island, with the value offered depending on the vulnerability of the particular neighborhood. The houses would be demolished and the properties would remain undeveloped to act as a natural buffer for future storms. Governor Cuomo stated that “there are some parcels that Mother Nature owns . . . and when she comes to visit, she visits.” Though the buy-out program still awaits federal approval, it has garnered substantial support from Staten Island representatives. The governor’s proposal is consistent with the views of members of the NYCPCC who have urged for a retreat from coastlines.

Regardless of methodology, all parties agree that some changes must be implemented soon to address the growing threat of climate change and rising sea levels. The success of the recommendations in the Resiliency Report and the continuing success of PlaNYC will hinge predominantly on the initiatives of Mayor Bloomberg’s successor. The Bloomberg administration has five months left to lay the foundation for these programs, but the responsibility to implement both the Resiliency Report recommendations and PlaNYC ultimately will fall on the next mayor. The incoming mayor must have the will, dedication, funding and community support to ensure the programs’ continued success. Will the new mayor be willing to commission studies of the SeaPort City proposal? Will the new mayor be able to secure the funding required to implement recommendations in the Resiliency Report? Will the new mayor build on the successes of PlaNYC? Will the new mayor become the flag-bearer for the adaptation of New York City and its coastal metropolitan areas to address growing environmental concerns? These and other questions have already become an important part of the campaign dialogue as voters form their positions for the upcoming mayoral election in November.

Doin’ the Dunes: What Will They Cost?

Posted on June 13, 2013 by Joseph Manko

How appropriate was the name “Sandy”, which hit the New Jersey shore, leaving in its wake a $30 billion cleanup/rebuild price tag.  Climate change experts agree that such catastrophic storms will continue to occur in the future and that adaptation is essential to confront repetitions.

So it is in New Jersey where all 3 branches of government have suggested ways in which to do so.  First, Governor Christie has gone on record as being “not in favor of using eminent domain to kick people out of their homes”.  He therefore proposes to spend $300 million to acquire key beach homes on the Ocean and Monmouth County shorelines.

Second, and most interesting to environmental and land use attorneys, is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) pursuit of acquiring easements along the New Jersey shore lines on which to construct and maintain 2-story high sand dunes.  This program, begun in 2003 and contemplated to last 50 years, is focused on 14 miles of New Jersey’s barrier islands at an estimated cost of $144 million. (The Corps’ estimate does not recognize the issues raised here.)  The wild card in the Corps’ approach is how much needs to be paid in compensation for the property owners’ easement, including a partial loss of ocean view.  This is the issue moving through the New Jersey legislature and, more importantly, its courts. In the most recent case, Borough of Harvey Cedars v. Harvey Karan and Phyllis Karan, Judge E. David Millard, the lower court judge, was faced with the question whether the compensation award for an easement on 1/3 of the Karans’ beachfront property, on which the Corps built a 22 foot high sand dune which partially obstructed their ocean view, should be reduced by the resultant benefit of protection from future storms provided by the dunes – or whether the general benefit to others, and the entire state of New Jersey, made such a “special benefit” to the Karans not recognizable under existing New Jersey case law.   Finding such “special benefit” not consistent with prior law and extremely speculative to calculate, Judge Millard  instructed the jury not to make any such reduction in the $375,000 award.  The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed the result, Borough of Harvey Cedars v. Harvey Karan and Phyllis Karan, 45 A.3d 983 (2012) .  The New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification to the Borough and heard two hours of argument on May 20, 2013.

Third, while all this was going on, a bill was introduced in the New Jersey Senate in March 2013 which, if enacted, would allow the Court to consider the “special benefit” which dunes would afford to the affected homeowners.  Whether the bill ever becomes law, as well as questions as to its constitutionality and its effect on New Jersey case law would certainly emerge – as will be the question as to whether the New Jersey Supreme Court will take notice of the bill in rendering its decision.

Issues such as these will clearly impact the cost of climate change adaption, especially so with the threat of the anticipated rising of sea levels and recurring coastal storms to island properties.  Stay tuned.

SECOND THOUGHTS ON SUPER-STORM SANDY

Posted on December 18, 2012 by Gregory Sharp

A prior post by Michael Rodburg described New Jersey’s coastal regulatory programs, Sandy’s impact on that state and the policy choices it now must face.  This alert will focus on Connecticut’s experience with Storm Irene and Super-storm Sandy and the challenges for government at all levels that the storms have presented.

Connecticut is known as the “land of steady habits,” but after being hit by two significant storms within a fourteen month period, many people are beginning to question the sustainability of the state’s historic coastal growth patterns and the ability of the current regulatory scheme to address the challenges that climate change is bringing to coastal states like Connecticut.

The impact on Connecticut from Sandy was not as great as the impact on New Jersey, because the storm atypically turned West as it approached Long Island, and the eye of the storm hit the New Jersey coast head on.  However, Connecticut was not spared, because Sandy’s peak easterly winds occurred during a spring high tide event.  This combination of factors pushed a record high storm surge into western Long Island Sound, which narrows as it approaches its westerly outlet through the East River separating Manhattan from Brooklyn.

Due to this constriction, the water had no where to go but up in the western Sound, and it over-topped seawalls and flooded many residential areas in Fairfield County which had not historically been subjected to flooding.  It also threatened several utility sub-stations in Bridgeport and other urban centers, which were only saved by emergency flood proofing efforts.  Sadly, for many East-facing shorefronts, Sandy flooded out structures that had just been re-built following the ravages of Irene.

Ironically, like the programs in New Jersey discussed in Michael Rodburg’s post, Connecticut has had a decades old and robust coastal regulatory program.  The first legislation in 1939 was prompted by the deadly 1938 Hurricane.  In 1969, legislation was adopted to regulate and protect tidal wetlands.  These two programs have evolved since their initial passage and now require State permits respectively for dredging, installation of structures, and placement of fill in tidal and navigable waters, and for similar regulated activities in tidal wetlands.  The legislature strengthened the coastal programs in 1979 by authorizing a comprehensive coastal zone management program which required government agencies to make permit decisions in the coastal area consistent with the goals and policies of the Coastal Management Act (“CMA”).

Despite this expansive regulatory edifice designed to provide natural resource protection, minimize armoring, and offer preferred regulatory status to water-dependent uses in the coastal area, Sandy clearly challenged the adequacy of the current scheme.  One problem is that the statutes, particularly the CMA, have come decades too late to effectively steer development away from the coast.  A second is that the CMA’s goal of encouraging only water-dependent uses to be located in the coastal area has not been followed by the 34 towns in the coastal area which have the power to determine land use patterns through zoning.

The flaws in the current regulatory scheme prompted some environmental groups after Irene to call for a phased “retreat from the coast,” which immediately drew fire from property rights advocates in the legislature, and a legislative Shoreline Protection Task Force was created in the 2012 legislative session to study the issues.

Aside from the property rights issues involved in a governmental strategy of retreat, a significant problem in Connecticut would be that many coastal communities have a limited industrial/commercial tax base.  As a result waterfront properties comprise a disproportionately large share of the municipal grand list.  For government to try to force property owners out, or buy them out would leave many communities with a major revenue hole.  At a time of declining state revenues and a looming budget shortfall, it will be interesting to see how Connecticut’s General Assembly reacts to the impacts of Irene and Sandy in the legislative session beginning in January of 2013.

Sandy’s Aftermath: A First Thought

Posted on November 26, 2012 by Michael Rodburg

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Superstorm Sandy’s destruction of the Jersey Shore is that some people were taken by surprise.  For decades, a central focus of coastal zone management and waterfront development restrictions has been to protect the fragile and shifting barrier islands, wetlands, and estuaries of the 130 miles of New Jersey at the intersection of land and ocean.  New Jersey’s Coastal Areas Facilities Review Act and its Waterfront Development Act contain among the toughest limitations in the nation to control growth and development and protect an environmentally sensitive ecosystem.  Over the decades, thousands and thousands of decisions have been made by legions of bureaucrats on projects big and small regarding application of land use regulations and the terms of permits and other approvals intended to preserve dunes, reduce beach erosion, prevent flooding and avoid loss of life and property as well as protect the environment.  Sandy seems to have made a mockery of the effort in the blink of an eye.

Sandy was not a black swan event—something heretofore not even contemplated and hence, unforeseeable.  The USGS modelers and their European counterparts had it right almost from the beginning.  Scientists have modeled not only storm tracking itself with better and better forecasts and therefore more warnings, but even the severity and effects of storm events.  These models have predicted the height and location of the storm surges and the resulting erosion and flooding with reasonable accuracy.  Plug in the real time coordinates and other data, and the models told us that the waves would attack the dunes and erode them back into the sea; that storm surge would carry the sand inland and that inundation would occur once the beach and dunes had surrendered to the sea and storm.

In Sandy’s immediate aftermath, two related themes have emerged to justify rebuilding in place.  Many have advocated continuing business as usual; after all, if this was the storm of the millennium, we have a thousand years before we have to worry about a similar event occurring again.  Others have suggested that by undertaking protective measures, we humans are still capable of living anywhere we choose. We just need bigger and better sea walls, flood gates, and other barriers; let the engineers figure it all out.  Eventually, however, these views will inform a more deliberate discussion about our ability to adapt to changing climate conditions—how and where shall we choose to confront Nature and how and where will we let her do as she is wont to do.  With billions of dollars at stake, this debate will get contentious, to be sure.  Climate change and weather volatility will not be easily accommodated.  The role of government in the process—as regulator, facilitator, first responder and insurer of last resort—will come under review.  The two character Chinese pictograph for the word “crisis” consists of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.”  The crisis that is Sandy should remind us that we should not squander the opportunity to rethink our priorities and arrive at a better way to confront this danger in the future.

The Frankenstorm Triple Whammy

Posted on November 12, 2012 by Robert M Olian

Those environmental lawyers who had a two- or three-day “vacation” due to Hurricane Sandy now return to the office to face a workload that will in many cases be trebled. First, there’s the work you didn’t get to when your office was closed and now has to be finished post-haste. Second, there’s the work that you would have been doing the next few days had there been no hurricane. And third, there’s the urgent work that you now have to help your clients assess new issues that are present precisely because of the storm.

Wind and water mobilize even structures, equipment and materials that were always meant to be stationary. Storage tanks, waste ponds, drums, hazardous materials and other previously contained environmental hazards have now been released, flooded, or overtopped, often releasing reportable quantities of material. Clients will need to quickly assess the nature and magnitude of releases at and from their facilities to determine their environmental obligations.

The prudent environmental lawyer will immediately begin working with clients to determine whether there are spills and releases that must be reported to federal, state and local environmental agencies. Potential liabilities may depend upon whether under the applicable laws “Act of God” is or is not a defense.  Surprisingly, a major hurricane is not, in the eyes (pun intended) of some agencies interpreting some statutes, an Act of God. Clients also need to verify that their pollution control systems – wastewater treatment, air pollution, etc. – are functioning correctly post-storm, even if there were no reportable releases during the storm.

Clients are undoubtedly attuned to the need to submit insurance claims for business interruption and damage to their own property, but now is a good time to begin surveying what kinds of claims might be coming from neighbors and others damaged by releases from the client’s facility. This is particularly so given that we are nearing year-end and many policies no longer have “tails” for notices of claims received after the policy year has run.