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State’s delay on final sea-level rise projections chided

Sea-level rise projections meant to help state agencies and planners develop resilient structures in the future are delayed and will likely not be in place until the end of March, despite a January 2016 deadline.

After superstorm Sandy, the State Legislature passed the Community Risk and Resiliency Act to ensure projects seeking state money and permits properly considered the effect of climate change and extreme weather. Among the provisions was a rule to set science-based sea-level rise projections for Long Island, New York City and parts of the Hudson River region.

The January deadline was missed and the state Department of Environmental Conservation had to file final regulations by Wednesday or risk starting over due to administrative rules. Instead, the state filed significant enough changes to the projections to restart the clock. The Department of State could not confirm DEC’s filing.

“Every day that decisions are being made without the benefit of sea-level rise projections is a lost opportunity,” said Stuart Gruskin, chief conservation and external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy in New York.

DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said in a statement the agency “determined that important changes are needed to provide clear direction on how these regulations, once finalized, will be applied and implemented throughout the coastal zone.”

Public comments on the changes will begin after they are published Nov. 30 and the state hopes to finalize them within 90 days. Mahar would not discuss the changes or reasons for missing the deadline. It is also unclear how another part of the bill requiring DEC and other agencies to provide guidance by January 2017 will be affected.

Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who chairs the Environmental Conservation committee, said delays aren’t unusual at DEC because of “diminished personnel” but that he was disappointed.

“We really need to get the state’s rules and regulations and expectations well understood,” he said. “It should have been implemented posthaste and it has been delayed, and it is potentially life-threatening.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the act in September 2014. Draft regulations published a year later cited low, low-medium, medium, high-medium and high sea-level rise projections for the 2020s, 2050s, 2080s and 2100. For Long Island, the projections ranged from 2 to 10 inches in the 2020s and from 15 to 72 inches by 2100.

At a public hearing in June 2015, a DEC attorney said the projections will help determine regulatory changes for permitting, facility siting regulation and funding of major projects under 19 state projects, ranging from wetland and water protections to sewage service and location of petroleum gas facilities.

“It is appropriate and necessary for climate risk to be an eligible component of funding and permitting and also for applicants to demonstrate that they have considered climate change and extreme weather impacts on their proposed projects,” the bill’s justification read.

The Environmental Protection Fund, which assists with local waterfront revitalization, coastal rehabilitation and municipal parks, is among those affected, according to the legislation.

“If taxpayers are paying for something it shouldn’t get washed away or be a hazard in the future,” Gruskin said. “There is a pressing need for the information to be out there.”

At the time the sea-level rise projections were announced Department of Transportation Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll said New York would be better prepared for rough weather and high water.

“Working with our sister agencies, these new sea-level rise projections are an important step in helping us develop a transportation network that is more resilient and weather ready now and in the future,” he said in a news release.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, called the delay risky.

“The longer we wait, the worse the situation gets,” she said. “Sea-level rise isn’t waiting for an administrative process. It’s happening now.”


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