NJ seeks fix to storm damage from flooding in back bays
SEASIDE PARK — It's the dirty little secret of storms at the Jersey shore and many other coastal communities: Some of the worst flooding can come not from ocean waves crashing ashore on beaches, but from the steady, stealthy rise of water from back bays.
New Jersey and the federal government are considering potential fixes for this lesser-known but equally dangerous category of flooding that was responsible for tremendous damage during Superstorm Sandy, as well as in much lesser storms.
They will host a meeting Dec. 1 at Stockton University in Galloway to seek public input. Potential solutions include tide gates, levees, flood walls and drainage improvements.
"We recognize that protection of back bay and other tidal areas is not going to be a one-size-fits-all proposition, and that, in fact, multiple integrated strategies may be most appropriate in any given community or adjoining communities," said David Rosenblatt, assistant commissioner with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Chuck Appleby, whose Seaside Park home was wrecked by bayside flooding after Sandy, has plenty of suggestions.
"You need a sustainable system that can endure for years," he said. "Just putting hard bulkheading isn't the solution."
Appleby said areas near waterways need to focus on keeping rainwater from running off into bays or rivers. He suggests requiring developers to construction retention basins next to parking lots, ripping up some paved areas and using porous soil and natural plants to absorb water, and elevating roadways.
"You're talking about a few inches that can make the difference between being in the water and not in the water, particularly when we're trying to get out of town during a storm," he said.
Governments in Massachusetts, California, Florida and Maine are among those that have also grappled with the issue.
In Boston, more than half of downtown sits on filled-in tidal lands. The city adopted a climate action plan treating sea level rise as a near-term risk; a hospital built shortly before Sandy in 2012 was constructed 12 feet above sea level, with all patient rooms on upper floors.
Miami Beach is spending $400 million over five years to combat flooding from Biscayne Bay, where monthly lunar tides send salt water into storm-drain outlets and limestone on which the city was built, forcing water up and out into the streets. Rainy day flooding plagues low lying western neighborhoods, and floods have become more common even on sunny days.
The city pumps water out of storm drains, and has used bulkheads, sea walls and elevated roadways.
In Brigantine, the coastal town where Superstorm Sandy made landfall, bulkheads are a primary defense against back-bay flooding. But 95 percent of them are privately owned, and are not uniform in height. About two-dozen bayside properties have no bulkhead at all. Many of the older ones, built in the 1960s and '70, are six feet tall, while the mandatory height for new bulkheads is 9 feet. But even that wouldn't have worked in Sandy, where a 10-foot tidal surge occurred.
And Portland, Maine has been struggling with how much development to allow in a back-bay neighborhood that is prone to flooding. Much of the Bayside neighborhood was filled in with gravel or debris as part of a rebuilding effort after a catastrophic fire in 1866, and routinely floods during astronomical high tides.
More than four years after Sandy, Appleby is still wrangling with insurers over the damage to his home.
"Today I was on the phone trying to get my check from the flood insurance company endorsed by my bank," he said. "You think you're finally done, and it just never ends."
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