Planning helped limit Sandy's damage
BY KAREN SUDOL, AND TATIANA SCHLOSSBERG, McClatchy-Tribune
HACKENSACK, N.J. -- At a retreat for nuns in Long Branch, a crumbling timber sea wall was replaced by a larger steel wall, which shielded the property during superstorm Sandy.
At Belmar Marina, exceptionally high piles prevented the floating docks from being swept out to sea.
And a "concrete mattress" designed to control erosion at Bayshore Waterfront Park in Middletown Township did just that.
Such measures and others taken by towns, agencies and businesses in the years preceding Sandy -- including using discarded Christmas trees to bolster dunes -- are being credited for speeding the recovery process from the October storm, which rocked the shoreline with storm surges and inland winds.
The initiatives lowered flooding levels and lessened damage, just as they were designed to do.
"One thing we know overall is that when towns protect the environment -- whether they pass ordinances for stream buffers or limit development -- that all comes to help those communities during storms," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "Environmental protections work."
Through so many storms leading up to Sandy, communities have had to take a harder look at ways to improve protection, said state climatologist David Robinson of Rutgers University.
"We got pummeled high and low, in and out, over the recent years, and this is giving communities pause to think about what they can do better in working with their residents and establishing a firmer infrastructure," Robinson said.
Along the Jersey Shore, that was apparent to the sisters of the Stella Maris Retreat Center, who grew concerned a few years ago about their oceanfront sea wall, which had been built in the 1960s and was degrading.
So a 15-foot-high steel sea wall, designed to withstand the impact of a 100-year storm, was built. The work was completed last winter.
"It prevented the water from coming up and destroying our house," said Sister Lois Jablonski, administrator for the retreat center. The wall also prevented the house and pool from getting flooded, she said.
Neighboring properties did not fare as well during Sandy, she said.
Farther north, at the Bayshore Waterfront Park in Middletown, Monmouth County park officials battling a chronic dune erosion problem decided to install a "concrete mattress" as a stopgap measure.
The "mattress," constructed last year, is made up of concrete blocks enmeshed with steel cables that form a grid pattern. The flexible structure, which measures about 1,000 feet along the bay beach, is being used until a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shore protection project gets under way.
Birdsall Services Group is the engineering firm that designed the mattress, as well as the retreat center sea wall. "The mattress performed with merit, survived the storm and protected the shoreline from further erosion," said Andrew Raichle, senior vice president for infrastructure at the firm.
Bradley Beach has lessened dune erosion problems by using discarded Christmas trees as a base for the dune structure -- an idea that was started 17 years ago.
The mile-long dunes -- which took about five years to build with 20,000 evergreens and 50,000 plugs of dune grass -- limited the severity of the blow Sandy delivered to oceanfront buildings, said Robert J. Bianchi, the borough's operating supervisor of public works.
While the storm surge pushed great amounts of sand against the promenade, the walkway sustained light damage, and all of the borough's oceanfront buildings remained intact. That wasn't the case in neighboring towns such as Belmar, where the boardwalk was washed out beyond repair.
Bianchi anticipates using 5,000 trees to build a quarter-mile of new dunes at the north and south ends of the borough.
"One thing we know overall is that when towns protect the environment ... that all comes to help those communities during storms. Environmental protections work."
New Jersey Sierra Club