As New Jersey communities recover from Hurricane Sandy, they should incorporate ways to ensure they can recover much faster from the next storm.
And multiple federal agencies also are using Sandy as a chance to better identify weak spots in shore protection systems and potentially rethink existing design and construction methods.
These were among the points discussed Monday at the Northeast Shore and Beach Preservation Association meeting held at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
A goal of the conference, which was hosted by Stockton’s Coastal Research Center, was for federal and state experts to share recent research and findings, along with future plans based on lessons learned from the Hurricane Sandy recovery, said Association President Douglas Gaffney.
“Every time we have one of these storms, there are always opportunities to learn and improve, so the next time it happens, hopefully we are better prepared,” said former Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Mark Mauriello, who gave the keynote presentation.
One element that Mauriello said communities could use Sandy as an opportunity to prepare for the future is looking at areas that could be bought out and turned into open space or some other use that doubles as flood protection. While the state is in the process of buying out properties in Middlesex and Cumberland counties, Mauriello said some oceanfront communities, such as the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, could benefit.
“This triggers a lot of debate, and it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap of ‘keep everything there’ or ‘abandon the barrier islands,’ because that’s not what it’s about.”
Oceanfront buyouts were a key part of the recovery in Sea Isle City from the March storm of 1962, Mauriello said. The city purchased oceanfront blocks that were then converted to open space or used for the city’s promenade. The town compensated those land owners with lots elsewhere on the island.
“Post-storm is the time to do this. This is when you have a great opportunity,” Mauriello said. “It’s very difficult for mayors to accept acquisition as an option.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on multiple reports to identify a number of issues associated with coastal flood protection, including a detailed report in the North Atlantic District.
That report, Senior Coastal Engineer Lynn Bocamazo said, is both a look at long-term planning for the areas most affected by Sandy as well as a discussion of potential solutions. The report, which is due to Congress in January 2015, will not include any sort of construction guidelines, but may provide ideas for how to better build engineered beaches and how much those options may cost.
Bocamazo said the corps also is looking at how to better use natural systems, such as wetlands and beaches, to reduce the effects of storms. The report will include three scenarios for sea level rise, something that only in the past few years has become a standard part of Army Corps designs.
Other research presented during Monday’s discussions illustrated how three communities in Ocean and Monmouth counties fared during the storm and how often levels of flooding similar to those of Sandy are likely to occur.
Frannie Bui, a coastal engineer hired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, found through her analysis that the flooding in Sea Bright was similar to that of a storm that has only a 0.2 percent chance of striking an area in any given year. However, Bui found that the flooding level during Sandy in Atlantic City was more common — with similar flooding likely occurring at least every 10 years.
But different researchers, including those from multiple federal agencies and universities, found different results using different methods. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bui said, found that recurrence frequency in Atlantic City was 47 years, while other researchers said the storm was a 700-year storm.
While the ranges are based on different calculation methods, the result could be significant because the number could determine how much money is given to communities to prepare for future storms, she said.
Contact Sarah Watson:
@acpresssarah on Twitter