Ortley Beach, Toms River's most storm-battered portion, will reopen for repopulation, but Township Mayor Tom Kelaher warns it could be while until things are fully normal in that part of town.

Damage to homes in Ortley Beach
Damage to homes in Ortley Beach (Governor's Office, Tim Larsen)

The repopulation of Ortley Beach will be Monday, February 4th. However, the section east of Route 35 North will still not be open for residents to move back in.

Mayor Kelaher says for the state of emergency to be rescinded, he has to certify to the state Office of Emergency Management that all four utilities are in place and functioning, which is still a problem in one part of Ortley Beach.

"The area between Route 35 North and the ocean is in such a condition that we could not have the utilities certify to us that they're all functioning."

He notes gas companies still have crews working and JCP&L can't even place the poles because the streets are gone.

Infrastructure Issues Persist in Ortley Beach

Kelaher said, "Then they have an issue with respect to houses, are they going to be on stilts and are the polls going to be big enough? He adds there were questions whether the poles could be replanted because the sinkholes compromised the amount of soil under the roads.

While the primary portion of Ortley Beach will technically be "repopulated," Kelaher says it might be a while until residents can actually live back in their homes. All of the residences were either damaged or flooded (or both) during Superstorm Sandy, and Kelaher says many homeowners will likely coming back to many renovation projects.

"For the places that were flooded and the areas that can be repopulated, it probably would require the people tear out the sheet rock, tear out insulation, repair the electrical service."

He adds, even if people are able to make structural repairs, "they're still going to have to buy new furniture, new appliances, new furnaces, and so on."

Citing January's repopulation of the 4,000 or so properties on the northern beaches of Toms River (Chadwick, Ocean Beaches, Normandy Beach), Police Chief Michael Mastronardy did a survey of residents who were back.

"And with that many homes and with the ability to move in, he could only find thirty people that people had done the work far enough along to move in."

Ortley Beach has roughly 2,000 homes.

Originally, residents were cordoned off from their Ortley Beach dwellings, primarily over safety concerns. Kelaher says immediately after the storm power lines were down everywhere, homes were moved off their foundations, and the roads were covered with sinkholes-making them undrivable.

"You couldn't have people driving up and down the streets for fear they or their car would fall into one."

The State Department of Transportation made repairs to roads and the mayor feels more confident in their safety. However, he acknowledges with the barrier island's relatively shallow water table, residents should continue to be careful.

All in all, he says he's happy residents can return home, but foresees the entire ordeal as far from over.

"In the beginning we were in a sprint to get everything lined up as best we could, and now we change that from a sprint to a cross country marathon."

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