Environmentalists Criticize Seawall Plan

Posted by Kenny Walter, The Hub on Sep 26, 2014

Environmental groups are seeing more risk than reward in an $8.5 million project that would expand, reconstruct and repair the beachfront seawall to better protect the borough.

Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, said in an interview last week that rebuilding the Sea Bright seawall would still leave the borough vulnerable against future storms.

“I think … seawalls are not going to provide ultimate protection,” he said. “You saw, even where the seawall wasn’t breached in Sea Bright, there was still damage to housing behind it.”

The borough seawall is slated for an extensive project that will include filling in the gaps where no wall exists, reconstructing some of the severely damaged areas and repairing damage in other areas.

Dillingham said the borough is making a mistake by rebuilding along the vulnerable shoreline.

“The state and the town need to combine barriers, dune systems or walls with other approaches, like making sure that redevelopment doesn’t happen in the highest risk areas,” he said.

“That’s really where we haven’t done a very good job in response to Sandy. We are building right back in the same places and really relying on techniques that are not going to be fool-proof.”

The seawall project is being designed by T&M Associates with assistance from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Borough Engineer Jaclyn Flor said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will pick up 90 percent of the costs, and the DEP, which owns the wall, will fund the balance.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, also was critical of the plan for the seawall.

“Our concern is that seawalls don’t work and they give people false hope, and the first storm they get overtopped and undermined,” he said in a Sept. 17 interview.

“They really don’t work. We’ll be putting in all this money where you really need to do more comprehensive planning.”

Tittel said the focus should be on other mitigation mechanisms, including elevating properties, constructing dunes, buying out flood-prone properties and constructing flood-storage areas.

Despite the criticism, Flor said the seawall was effective in some areas during superstorm Sandy.

“Look at what happened in our downtown, where the seawall was substandard and not at the proper elevation,” she said.

“In Sea Bright, that seawall really acted as a dune system. It was a hard system that stopped the waves from impacting the areas where it was at a proper elevation.”

Lawrence Ragonese, DEP press director, said the seawalls are an effective tool in protecting towns and can be part of more extensive mitigation plans.

“Yes, seawalls can be effective in offering protection,” he said in an email. “In many cases, like in Mantoloking and Brick, they also can be incorporated into larger shore-protection projects.”

Along with the seawall, Flor said there are several other mitigation projects in the works, including reconstructing and repairing the seawall, raising the level of bulkheads along the river, and constructing pump stations to handle floodwaters that would better protect the borough.

“Once the projects are complete, it will be much more resilient than it was prior to the storm,” she said.

According to Flor, the borough will soon advertise for bids to construct a bulkhead at a height of 7 feet above sea level at the end of six streets along the Shrewsbury River.

The bulkhead project coincides with an ordinance introduced during the Sept. 16 Borough Council meeting that would require property owners who rebuild bulkheads to match the mandate of 7 feet that the borough is implementing elsewhere.

Flor said other mitigation projects may also be undertaken in the future, as the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release a study within a year on measures that would better protect the borough.

Along with the borough-sponsored projects, Flor said residents have begun to raise their individual properties to better protect against floods.

“The mayor and council are very active in working with their residents in taking advantage of [grant programs], which will raise individual residences above the base flood elevation,” she said.

“If you look around town, you are going to see a ton of homes being raised. You really can’t drive up and down any street in the downtown and not see homes being raised.”

During the Sept. 16 council meeting, Flor mapped out current plans for the seawall.

She said the areas of the wall that are currently slated for reconstruction are at the northern boundary of the borough, Anchorage Beach, the municipal parking lot and behind Borough Hall.

Flor said other areas of the seawall that were breached during the storm would receive spot repairs, and the gap in the wall behind the Tradewinds property would be filled.

The plans are unlikely to be finalized in the next six months, so officials will have time to make changes if more problem areas are identified, she said.

Once the project is completed, the seawall will be a consistent 18 feet above sea level and span the entire length of the borough intoMonmouth Beach, Flor said.

Full story at The Hub

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