One of the final meetings of the year for the Seaside Park borough council turned into a lengthy discussion of one of the borough’s longest-running challenges: bayside flooding.
More than a dozen residents gathered in the council chambers on Monday night, most wearing rain boots, signifying their waning tolerance of flooding on the bayside and a seeming lack of cooperation from the county. The residents asked the council to keep residents better informed about projects that could affect flooding along the bay, and that the governing body contract with a dedicated coastal engineer to formulate a plan to permanently solve the flooding issues, which have worsened in recent years.
“H Street always had a problem when there were excessive high tides, but it has a problem all the time now,” said resident Stephen DeGeorge. “A situation that was bad has been made worse.”
After a recent project that rose the crest of the roadway along Bayview Avenue – a county road – more water has been flooding the side streets, which are under local jurisdiction, the residents said. The slope of the road pushes more water in the easterly direction than back toward the bay, exacerbating the depth of floodwaters on bayfront properties as well as up and down the bay blocks borough-wide. The residents also expressed concern that more water than ever was rising through storm drains.
“We’re tired of bayfront flooding,” said Sherry Villano. “We carry boots in our trunk because when we leave in the morning, the [police roadblock] horses are not up, and when we return in the evening, we have to walk through other people’s backyards to get home. The bayside is in crisis. Property values are diminishing.”
Officials admitted that the borough’s engineer, employed by the Remington Vernick & Vena firm, has no coastal engineering background. They listened intently to the residents’ request, but did not decide whether they would indeed hire a dedicated coastal engineer. One council member, however, was strong in his stance that a coastal engineer should be hired.
“Nothing against Pam – but she’s not a coastal engineer and we need a coastal engineer,” said Councilman Frank “Fritz” McHugh, referring to the borough’s regular civil engineer.
The group of residents told the council their stories of flood woes for the better part of an hour. One woman said she wears boots in the morning, has to rake seaweed out of her yard, and often must meet the Peapod food delivery truck up the street and wade back through the floodwater with her grocery order.
Chuck Applebee, a 10th Avenue resident, suggested that a committee of citizens be formed who will volunteer their time to liaise with the council on how the town should move forward to address flooding issues. Climate change, in the form of so-called “King Tides,” is to blame, he believes.
“We used to have four or six of these – now we’re having 20 of them every year,” said Applebee.
The borough has some plans in place to help address flooding on the bayside, officials said. Right now, the borough is trying two flapper valve-style systems at two different streets. One, known as the Tideflex system, is in place at K Street while a different system is in place at M Street. The two systems are being evaluated against each other to see if either merits wider installation.
“Up to a certain level, it apparently has [worked], but once the water reaches a certain level, it finds another place,” said McHugh.
The borough is also continuing to work on its plan to create a “living shoreline” which will naturally decrease wave energy, but most of the residents said it is not waves creating the flooding, but rising water from storm drains. They also said something must be done about the muck and mold left behind by constant flooding, which one man said has exacerbated his wife’s allergies, sending her to the doctor’s office on multiple occasions.
In one of his last meetings as mayor, Robert Matthies said the borough council “has worked very hard in many areas to address flooding.”
“This is multi-faceted, it isn’t one straight line,” Matthies said. “There are so many different aspects of trying to solve this dilemma, this issue.”
Residents’ demands will likely continue into the new year, with the hiring of a coastal engineer at the top of the list.
“I think it’s time for us, as residents, to get some attorneys and take some legal action,” said S. Bayview Avenue resident Doyle Hunsinger. “It’s to the point where we now can’t get out of the house and have to miss work.”