The problem with making predictions is that sometimes predictions are wrong. Over the past several months I made two predictions on this blog about two important environmental law cases. I ended up one-for-two.
That isn’t such a bad performance, but the consequences of being wrong are significant -- not just for my ego, but for the on-the-ground reality of environmental planning. Of course the consequences of being right are also important. This post addresses the good news. Stay tuned next week for the bad news.
In December I wrote about climate adaptation efforts in New Jersey. The town of Harvey Cedars, the State of New Jersey, and the federal government were cooperatively working to strengthen a dune system in order to protect against devastating storm surges like those associated with Hurricane Sandy. But bigger and better dunes can mean diminished views for some homeowners. Harvey and Phyllis Karan lost some of their view and a court initially awarded them $375,000 for the loss. Shortly afterward, Sandy came along and, because of the new dunes, didn’t destroy their home. So Mr. and Mrs. Karan had hundreds of thousands of dollars and an intact home thanks to the dune project.
I argued that this was an unreasonable result and if the law continues to require this sort of double-benefit whenever private property is hampered by climate adaptation projects, climate adaptation would become financially infeasible.
Luckily for the future of New Jersey’s beaches, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on Monday, July 8, that the lower court was wrong when it awarded $375,000 to the Karans. The lower court did not allow the jury to consider the fact that the dune project would give the Karans a significant benefit (saving their home!), and it should have. According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, the jury should consider the fair market value of the property before the governmental interference and compare that to the fair market value after the interference, including any potential increases resulting from the project.
This case now returns to the lower court where a new jury will consider how the home-saving benefits of dune replenishment will affect the value of the Karans’ home. Hurricane Sandy likely had some impact on the court’s decision in this case, even if only subconsciously. It is also likely that the memory of Sandy will influence the next jury to determine how much money the Karans should receive.
Sandy may or may not have a connection to climate change, but the storm is at least a demonstration of what climate change looks like. In my earlier post I suggested that the reality of climate change may drive changes to the strictures of property law, and this week’s decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court suggests this could be exactly what is happening.