Making a federal case Jerseyans want government to centralize coastal infrastructure efforts

Joshua Burd//August 4, 2014

Making a federal case Jerseyans want government to centralize coastal infrastructure efforts

Joshua Burd//August 4, 2014

Hurricane Sandy had passed, and Bill Golden had a front-row seat for what was left behind.

He had spent the night riding out the storm in his ship, docked alongside Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood. And as the 128-foot vessel re-entered the New York harbor for the first time, he saw images that he still recalls clearly, even nearly two years later.

“I could see the cars floating, and I could see Lower Manhattan blacked out,” Golden said, “and really no first responders around because they were out working in different areas trying to save lives.

“You had this city — the financial capital of the world — brought to its knees.”

It wasn’t long before the Princeton resident, a longtime environmental attorney and former public official, grew concerned about the next time the region’s infrastructure and economy could be crippled by Mother Nature — concerns shared by his friend and fellow borough resident Paul Josephson, a veteran New Jersey lawyer in his own right.

Within a year, they had formed the National Institute for Coastal & Harbor Infrastructure.

The organization is focused on what it calls the “triple threat” to the national economy and security — rising sea levels, extreme weather and aging infrastructure. And it’s advocating for a broad policy of planning and investing, rather than regional responses focused on repairing 20th century infrastructure whenever a storm hits.

It’s a goal Golden and Josephson hope to see realized at the federal level — in a single government agency — with the level of attention, funding and focus on economic development and security that drove the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.

There’s no doubting it’s a lofty goal. There’s no telling how difficult it will be to build such a consensus when environmental issues are on the table and billions of dollars are needed. But Golden and Josephson say the organization they call NICHI, with its nine-member board of policy experts, is making valuable inroads with government officials at all levels, regional planning groups and business leaders.

Case in point was NICHI’s first conference in November, two months after the group’s official founding. The symposium in Boston drew some 250 stakeholders such as Garret Graves, who was then chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The group held a second summit this spring that was geared toward the private sector, with a takeaway being that some executives are starting to understand the need for resiliency planning as a means of protecting their return on investment.