NJ’s trying to prevent back bay flooding … but some say it’s taking forever
Installing sea gates at inlets, improving and maintaining marshland, building mini dune systems and elevating infrastructure are ideas the Army Corps of Engineers and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will consider as they try to stem back bay flooding.
A public meeting about a three-year feasibility study for solutions to the flooding and sea level rise was held last week at Stockton University. But the length of the study isn't sitting well with some homeowners, who remain without storm protection more than four years after Hurricane Sandy.
Paul Jeffrey, president of the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association, said when you factor in follow-up studies and actual planning. "this project is not for anyone in my community. It's for their children, because by the time this project is built, most of the people in my community will have passed away."
"A comprehensive look at the coastal back bays of New Jersey has never been done before, and you don’t get federal funding for such projects without starting with studies and information," NJDEP spokesman Bob Considine said in an email response to Jeffrey's concerns about the project possibly taking 10 years to complete. "To think otherwise is foolhardy,"
Considine added municipalities can come to the state to propose or work on projects in the shorter-term.
"We can provide funding options through the Environmental Infrastructure Trust, which provides no-to-low interest loans for infrastructure. But those have to be initiated by municipalities," he said.
Jeffrey said that in Ortley a project currently in the works will raise Washington Avenue, the main access to a supermarket.
"Washington Avenue floods, not from the bay or from the ocean, but because it has drains that go out to the bay, and it's the lowest point all of Ortley Beach — so when we get a very astronomical high tide, the water right now on Washington Avenue is about 18 inches deep," Jeffrey said.
Engineering for the project was done about 18 months ago and is about to go out to bid, according to Jeffrey.
"It will raise Washington Avenue, at the lowest point, by about a foot," he said.
A few other sites in Toms River have been identified for similar projects. Jefferey also said flooding on Long Beach Island is due to the same issue.
"It's not that the water comes over bulkheads. The water is coming backwards up the drains and flooding the roads in LBI," Jeffrey said. He believes finding an effective gate or valve on the end of the drains could help solve some of those issues.
Jeffrey also told state and federal representatives at the public meeting he feels the DEP could have come out with a recommended height for rebuilding bulkheads immediately after Sandy.
"It would have at least stopped flooding in those areas where people consistently did that, but no one had the foresight to do that. In many respects, it's too late, because many people have already rebuilt their bulkheads," Jeffrey said.
In addition to sea gates as a possible solution to storm protection, Jeffrey said, naturalists feel the biggest and best solution is to make sure the bay is healthy and that marshes are rebuilt and maintained to absorb water effectively.
The feasibility study area encompasses 950 square miles and nearly 3,400 miles of bays, rivers, creeks, lagoons, coastal lakes and other tidal shorelines in Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Ocean and Monmouth Counties.
Contact reporter Dianne DeOliveira at Dianne.DeOliveira@townsquaremedia.com.