Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno toured parts of the Downbeach towns of Longport, Margate and Ventnor on Friday, getting a first-hand glimpse of homes and businesses damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
A key theme of the visit was $7 billion Gov. Christie wants for statewide storm mitigation, a large part of which is the expansion and fortification of the coastline through sand dunes.
That would be major change for communities like Margate and Longport, which have few dunes and suffered damage along the oceanfront.
There was vocal opposition there to a dune project over a decade ago, when Ventnor and Atlantic City saw its dunes built up by the Army Corps of Engineers. Sand still lies in the streets of Margate and Longport, whereas Ventnor and Atlantic City saw less damage from the ocean, point Guadagno made during Friday’s tour.
Joined by Longport Mayor Nick Russo, Guadagno viewed the one major dune in the borough, built up by former mayor George Baumgardner, which Russo said fronted the only part of town that didn’t see large amounts of sand.
Guadagno said that building up the dune system was “a no-brainer.”
“People are going to complain about new dunes,” she said, standing atop a giant sand pile at the beach end of 32nd Avenue. “But had the dunes not been there? ...”
Guadagno said Friday’s tour was a clear demonstration that dunes work.
“That’s the bottom line right here in Longport.” she said.
Russo, asked Thursday about the history of opposition in Longport, said that “People who opposed the dunes wanted to see the ocean. Well, guess what? They saw the ocean. The ocean was in their living room. That’s what I would say to anyone today opposed to the dune project.”
Guadagno also looked at damage suffered at the Point section of Longport, where water surged over the seawall. Residents, including attorney Stephen Hankin, asked for help in strengthening it.
Guadagno’s visits in Margate and Ventnor focused on the effect the flooding had on businesses. She walked down Ventnor Avenue and talked to several businesses, including the Heritage Surf Shop and Jalapeno’s & Salads Co., where several diners were surprised to see a large entourage of politicians and assistants suddenly enter during lunch.
At Heritage, where half the store was cordoned off after the storm, owner Randy Young told Guadagno that insurance helped, but “not enough. Just enough to get us by.”
Margate Business Association president Ed Berger said they were “thrilled” Guadagno was there. “
Berger said the story of the city’s devastion was “yesterday’s story.”
“Today’s story is we need people to come back.” he said. “The main thing people can do in make New Year’s Eve reservations in one of our restaurants or shop in one of our reopened stores.”
Guadagno toured Tomatoe’s on Amherst Avenue before making a last-minute, unplanned visit to Cassel’s Supermarket, Mayor Mike Becker said.
She also toured businesses in Ventnor, including the Red Room Cafe and Rain Florist flower shop in devastated Ventnor Heights. Beforehand,
Red Room owner Jack Gatta — whose business saw more than three feet of water, and whose glass front door remained shattered — said that more than restaurants were affected.
“People have their lives (affected). A lot of people down here didn’t have insurance, didn’t have contents covered.”
Rain Florist owner Kim Ryon told Guadagno about how “tough” the locals have been since the storm.
As for herself, “I’m just cleaning up,” Ryon said afterward. “I had a van totaled, though I didn’t think it had real severe flooding. The insurance company totaled it.”
Across the street, Ship Shop owner Karen Santoro, awaiting Guadagno’s arrival, was hopeful but cynical.
“I don’t know,” Santoro said. “I really don’t know. It’s like, are they really going to do more for us? It would be really great if they could. ... All the businesses are very quiet. It’s just trickling down to everybody. People who frequent places don’t have the money to do it.”
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