Sunday, October 26, 2008
By MICHAEL MILLER Staff Writer, 609-463-6712
Published: Sunday, October 26, 2008
UPPER TOWNSHIP - Contractors operating under an emergency declaration loaded boulders on a new sea wall Saturday on Strathmere's northern tip as waves lashed the frontyards of nearby homes.
A coastal storm brought high waves and rocks crashing over a protective bulkhead that neighbors built this year, and each new storm threatens to swamp the neighborhood.
Residents are taking small steps to protect their homes. Some filled and placed sandbags at the curb to guard against minor flooding.
The Boardman family fastened buoys to one side of their bulkhead and a combination of coal shovels, snow shovels and even dustpans to the other to deflect the surging high tide at their aptly named Seaview Avenue home.
They have enjoyed their sea view for three generations. But Sarah Boardman's father never expected the Atlantic Ocean to cross their doorstep when he built the home in 1950.
"Heavens, no. My father bought this whole block so we could have this view," she said.
These homes were protected by Corsons Inlet State Park, a beachfront reminder of what New Jersey's barrier islands used to be.
The park shared by Ocean City consisted of 20-foot-tall dunes covered in cedar trees, bayberry, porcelain berry and dune grass that attracted rabbits, foxes and shorebirds.
"We used to drive a Jeep out on the beach almost to Ocean City where we had beach parties," Boardman said. "We had 1,000 nesting black skimmers there."
The state Department of Environmental Protection has resisted development in Strathmere. The agency will not allow sewer systems here for fear it will lead to denser development.
The agency has taken a hands-off approach to maintaining the state park as well by refusing to pump sand onto this natural area. Instead, the state allowed the beaches to recede and build back up with the seasons.
For decades this policy of indifference suited residents here since the park provided an ample buffer against the tides.
"It was a cyclical thing. You didn't worry about it too much," Boardman said.
Likewise, the DEP was reluctant to permit the township or private residents to build hard structures such as sea walls here because doing so might interfere with nesting colonies of shorebirds.
"Except the good Lord decided differently," Boardman said.
In a dramatic turn of events, virtually the entire park - more than 60 acres - has disappeared into the sea.
"Literally an entire state park has vanished. I haven't seen anything like it," said state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic. "The lesson I learned is how rapidly a situation can deteriorate."
The township's beach consultant identified the trend of receding beachfront more than a year ago. As recently as its quarterly report July 14, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey's Coastal Research Center warned about the likelihood of more shoreline retreat on the island's north end.
For the past year the township has had to contend with one coastal crisis after another, and trucking quarried sand here by the ton to deal with them.
But not even a new steel bulkhead could stem minor tidal flooding last week and again Saturday as waves had free access to private property. The erosion accelerated in the past month.
Township officials will meet Monday with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to discuss a longer-term solution. In the meantime, it appropriated $300,000 to build the rock wall from Commonwealth down to Neptune Avenue.
Observers have had mixed reaction to the island's crisis.
Ron and Robin Librizzi, of Sea Isle City, joined other gawkers Saturday on Neptune Avenue to see the extent of the erosion firsthand. They own a beachfront home on 39th Street.
"It's definitely worth the risk," he said. "We say six times a day how lucky we are. But you also get the feeling it could be gone in an instant."
One blogger suggested the government had no business "bailing out" foolish investors who built near the shore.
The most conspicuous of these houses in Strathmere belongs to Annapolis, Md., residents Suzanne and Albert Lord. They built an addition to the three-story home in 2006, securing both state permits and local approvals according to the township construction office.
"We've been coming to Strathmere for 15 years. We've never anticipated anything like this happening - the ocean would completely chop off that (park peninsula)," Suzanne Lord said. "We've done what we can to protect our home. We're looking for some help from the state to accept their responsibility."
She has removed family photographs of their grandchildren and other valuables from their beach home in the event that the new rock wall does not keep the ocean at bay.
"We're extremely anxious," she said. "When you build in a place where there is a state park in front of you, you assume the state will not let the ocean take it."
Cape May County Emergency Management Director Frank McCall said criticism should not be directed toward the property owners.
"I don't think anyone makes application to put up a $2 million home with the anticipation that it will fall into the drink," McCall said. "If permits are granted and processes are followed and regulatory agencies approve them at all levels, then there's a reasonable expectation that it's the right thing to do."
What's wrong with this story?
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. It's really that simple folks. All this nonsense about "reasonable expectation" just because these folks filled out the proper forms? Do they really believe that the Taxpayers of the State of NJ are now obligated to protect a few dozen mostly million dollar vacation homes for folks from Maryland? I guess they do. Where does it stop folks? The State has already allocated 3.2 mil. for a beach project for this area in winter 2009. The odds are that money is going to simply be washed away in no time. The NJDEP knows as does most of the scientists that the most unstable land on earth is the land immediately adjacent to a barrier Island inlet. These areas come and go on a regular basis as witness Longports's south end and Ocean Cities north end. Is it reasonable then for the people on the north end of Strathmere to expect any different? It beggars the imagination in this time of dire economic need that the State will continually toss our precious tax $ into the sea to protect a few. The State should use it's power of eminent domain in these areas of high risk and yes TAKE these homes. Other wise we will be pouring millions endlessly into the sea. Will this happen? NO! What will happen is many many more millions will be tossed into the advancing sea on one of the nastiest still wild Inlets on the east coast.