If a hurricane surge destroyed most of your town and Congress opened the vault to make sure it doesn’t happen again, you’d take that offer, right?
Well, maybe in Louisiana, but not necessarily in New Jersey.
With $223 million in Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment projects and dredges and bulldozers working on the beaches right now, New Jersey is in the midst of a long-term program to prepare for rising sea levels and future storms. New York is in a similar partnership, after Hurricane Sandy inundated Staten Island and destroyed the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens, N.Y.
But on beaches south of New York, some towns and property owners see a land grab of their property rights, instead of a multimillion-dollar federal subsidy.
“Unfortunately we are experiencing significant delays in those programs because of litigation” with seaside homeowners who refuse to grant construction easements, said Bob Martin, New Jersey’s environmental commissioner.
Where Sandy destroyed the wealthy seaside enclave of Mantoloking and punched an inlet through the barrier island, about 280 homeowners in the neighboring towns still withhold easements, Martin said at a May 21 presentation that New Jersey Sea Grant hosted in Asbury Park, N.J.
“We still have homes … that were at Ground Zero, and homeowners are still holding out,” Martin said.
They’ve just been lucky, said Jon Miller, a research assistant professor of ocean engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.
“We had a second mild winter in a row after Sandy,” Miller said. Of 10 minor storms in winter 2014-2015, only one brought a tide 7’ above mean low water with moderate flooding. It takes 9’ above MLW to make real problems along the New York-New Jersey shoreline.
With luck, the beach builders may get another grace period. The annual tropical storm outlook from Colorado State University foresees just six named storms for this 2015 Atlantic season, “about half of what they are on average,” Miller said.
That translates to a landfall risk of about 0.6% for the region where Sandy plowed through in October 2012, Miller said.
“It seems like low odds,” he added. “But it’s just six in 1,000. If I told you, you had a six in 1,000 chance of hitting the Powerball (lottery), you’d all run out and buy a ticket.”
Manson Construction Co. is wrapping up a $38 million beach replenishment project on a stretch of northern New Jersey beach where homeowners for years resisted granting easements, until Sandy nearly toppled some of their places into the sea.
Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. is working full tilt on a $128 million beach replenishment project on New Jersey’s Long Beach Island, after its $23.4 million job at Fire Island and Moriches Inlet in New York.
Martin says the Corps and New Jersey will press on anywhere they can get enough easements. There’s many more years of work coming for the dredging and marine construction industry, because creeping sea level rise will still make its end run behind the barrier beaches.
“We’re going to have to build higher bulkheads on the bayside,” Martin said.