Feature Stories

NJIT Awarded Grant to Protect the Shoreline

Michel Boufadel directs a center that is working to protect the Jersey shoreline.

An NJIT environmental center is designing solutions to help towns across the state mitigate flooding caused by storm surges, rising sea levels and super-storm Sandy.   

The center received a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to reduce flooding in three waterfront areas: Hoboken and Jersey City (the Hudson River); Moonachie and Little Ferry (the Hackensack River) and the shore towns bordering the Barnegat Bay. 

The Center for Natural Resources Development and Protection will use its expertise in hydraulics engineering and environmental science to design flood control structures for those areas, all of which suffered severe flooding from Hurricane Sandy. Experts at the center will review all of the proposed engineering solutions to flooding. They will also assure that the solutions don’t harm natural resources such as wetlands, mudflats, sea grass meadows, shell-fish beds and other habitats.

“We will help the state create solutions that balance ecology and economy,” says Michel Boufadel, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who directs the center. “We’ll also prepare ecosystem inventories for the state and recommend the use of green infrastructure to protect natural resources.”

The center will also publish maps that detail the sensitive natural resources that must be protected by any proposed engineering solutions. It will also conduct public workshops in the towns affected by flooding, asking residents for their input. Two of the workshops will also be held at NJIT.  In the end, the center will assess the ecological risk of every proposed structure aimed to reduce flooding in the towns.

Michael Weinstein, a senior scientist at the center, said that every proposed solution to buttress the three coastal areas will be reviewed, so that officials know exactly how that solution will affect natural resources; the property near to the shore; and the people who live there.

“If you build a seawall, for example, that will change the flow of the water, and that might affect nearby habitats,” says Weinstein. “That must be understood by a municipality or an entity before it decides on a solution.”

Just a year old, the center is already gaining a national reputation for engineering and environmental excellence.  In the wake of Sandy, the center received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study the impact of the storm on the New Jersey shoreline. The NSF grant allowed Boufadel to take a team of eight researchers to the beaches of Raritan Bay. The researchers fanned out over the shoreline and assessed the bay’s delicate ecosystems. The NSF awards its grants to national experts in their fields, and Boufadel is a nationally-known water expert with a distinguished history of publication and research.

He has investigated the Exxon Valdez spill and the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico and served on the National Academies Committee that evaluated the blowout’s impact on the Gulf of Mexico. He also served on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Advisory Board for natural gas extraction and shale formations and has studied floodplain delineation and contamination of urban streams for FEMA. He has published more than 80 articles in scholarly journals that include Nature, Geoscience and Water Resources Research.   

“NJIT has the technological expertise to become the steward of our shoreline,” he says. “And we’ll help these towns protect their natural resources and rebuild in sustainable ways that will protect them from future storm surges.”

By Robert Florida