After finally losing a yearslong effort to leave their municipal government, some Strathmere residents have a new message for Upper Township: Be careful what you wish for.
In the long road to recovery and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, locals who wanted to see their island enclave merge with Sea Isle City now want their mainland leaders to prove they can care for their unique needs.
“There are a lot of issues,” year-round Strathmere resident Lynn Fayter said. “Now you have to really step up to the plate. Now you have a very needy part of the township.”
While the northern part of Ludlam Island fared relatively well in October’s historic storm, several homes still saw their first floors and garages flooded, their docks destroyed and other property wrecked.
Like practically all island homeowners, they are worried new federal regulations could determine whether they have to raise their homes and what they have to pay for flood insurance.
“We can deal with the aftermath of Sandy. We can put our houses back together. We can fight with our insurance companies. We can make that happen,” Fayter said. “We need help with FEMA.”
Mayor Richard Palombo said the township knows it has a responsibility to serve the needs of its island residents. Elected leaders long maintained that Strathmere is too valuable a part of the township to lose.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he said. “You can’t resent the fact that you went through all this and now you have to deal with this. That’s our obligation.”
It is a unique relationship. No other municipality in the state has such a large mainland area and as long a portion of developed oceanfront. For that reason, some thought the Township Committee, which includes no Strathmere residents, did not understand their needs.
Shore protection, such as beach replenishment and bulkheads, was the primary concern, but the community also lacks services such as its own police force, because Upper is patrolled by the State Police.
Ed Tettemer, corresponding secretary for CSWB, said the township has improved its relationship with Strathmere residents since the residents’ court case began. By maintaining its beach and implementing ordinances to plan for monitoring the shoreline, the township is eligible for FEMA reimbursement aid after disasters.
Palombo also said he has gone to great lengths to stay up-to-date with developments in federal regulations that could affect the island community.
“If we’re trying to help residents, we need to be informed of what is happening, as well,” he said.
The township has hired Richard Stockton College’s Coastal Research Center as a consultant during the process of FEMA revising its regulations.
Steve Hafner, a field research coordinator with the center, said the northern part of Ludlam Island does have some unique features that make maintaining it a challenge.
There used to be regular problems with the ocean fully breaching the dune system in the middle of the island, where it is remarkably thin, but the county installed a geotube under the beach there to reduce that issue.
The township does not own the northernmost tip of the island, which is part of Corsons Inlet State Park. That makes it susceptible to erosion, because no jetty or seawall can be built in that natural area, Hafner said.
“The inlet is a dynamic feature over time,” he said. “The best way to describe it is like a fire hose. If you lay it down on the ground, it goes back in forth.”
Maintain Strathmere property values is imperative not only to residents but to the rest of the township, because those homeowners pay a disproportionate amount of taxes.
In fact, that was the main argument officials made to prevent Strathmere’s secession: The loss to the tax base would be a burden on everyone else in the township.
Residents have commended the township’s cleanup since Sandy. The government already budgeted for dune restoration and fencing.
“With or without Sandy, we always felt that Strathmere is an integral part of Upper Township,” Palombo said.
With land by the bay and the Tuckahoe River, Strathmere is not the only part of Upper Township that will have to deal with flood regulations, but after all the talk about how important that island community is over the last several years, residents there are expecting a little extra attention.
“They want us,” Fayter said. “OK, they got us.”
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