Delaware Bay Sandy

Crews work to repair a dike Thursday at Matts Landing in Maurice River Township. The dike, damaged by Hurricane Sandy, helps protect meadows and nearby commercial fishing businesses and marinas.

Thomas Barlas

Officials from Cumberland County’s Delaware Bay municipalities said businesses and homes are at risk as they renewed their plea Thursday for help in rebuilding the shoreline from damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Local officials told representatives from federal and state government agencies touring the region that, in some areas, small communities and much-needed jobs are threatened by dike systems barely holding back water from the Delaware Bay and Maurice River.

Should those dikes give way, floodwaters will put Maurice River marinas out of business, force commercial fishing and oyster processing plants to move to safer locations, and eventually endanger homes in upland areas.

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In all of the stops along the way in Maurice River, Commercial, Downe, Lawrence and Greenwich townships, municipal officials said help is needed quickly.

“I know you have to study everything,” Maurice River Township Mayor Andrew Scarlette told the state and federal officials while bulldozers and backhoes repaired a dike at Matts Landing. “Let’s not study it for 10 years.”

Asked when Commercial Township needed the repairs to be done, Mayor Donna Moore said, “Yesterday.”

The tour by officials from agencies such as the Governor’s Office, state departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was organized by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic.

Van Drew said he wanted officials in Cumberland County’s rural bayfront municipalities to plead their case directly to agencies that can help. He also said those municipalities deserve the same kind of attention given to communities along the Atlantic Ocean that were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

Officials with the touring agencies declined comment, saying they were only on a fact-finding mission.

They were told outright by Scarlette what he does not want to happen after they leave Cumberland County.

“Please don’t go away and forget us,” he said.

Cumberland County fronts the Delaware Bay for about 40 miles. Hurricane Sandy left parts of bayfront communities in shambles.

At least 20 homes were destroyed by waves and floodwaters, while some buildings just fell into the bay. Protective steel bulkheads were also shredded, and tons of sand covered roadways in and around the area.

Officials in Downe Township estimated the municipality incurred about $30 million in damage. The bulk of that destruction occurred in its Delaware Bay communities of Fortescue, Gandys Beach and Money Island.

Downe Township officials said the damage could be financially devastating, as those three small communities provide half of the municipality’s tax ratables.

While crews were busy Thursday repairing a dike at Matts Landing, Scarlette said that its failure during Hurricane Sandy resulted in a washout of Matts Landing Road. The only way to the area along the Maurice River is now by a narrow, paved bike path on which motor vehicles are usually banned, he said.

Scarlette said marina owners in the area are growing concerned about their seasonal summer business. Those owners are reporting fewer boat slip reservations than usual because customers are concerned about being able to get their boats to and from the marinas, he said.

In Commercial Township, Moore said the fish and oyster processing plants in her municipality provide about 200 jobs. Those jobs are critical to residents throughout Cumberland County, she said.

Helping to protect some of those plants is a dike along a section of the township called Peek of the Moon. Some of the federal and state officials toured the site on Thursday.

Commercial Township Public Works Department Director Clint Miller said that dike is under constant repair and now consists of large, broken pieces of concrete backfilled with gravel. Nearby meadows and marine-related businesses will likely be underwater should the dike fail, he said.

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