Longport once extended 10 blocks farther south into the Great Egg Harbor Inlet, but a series of storms spirited those blocks away before a seawall was built in 1917.
“And now, it’s working on an 11th,” said Stephen Hankin, an attorney who has lived on Point Drive since 1974.
Hurricane Sandy caused substantial damage across Longport, particularly to its south end, and borough officials have vowed to do all they can to keep back the advancing sea. Unlike other shore towns, including neighboring Margate, where voters are resisting what they say is state intrusion, Longport officials are seeking more shorefront protection.
“What we realized after Sandy was that this is probably the most fragile part of Longport, and it needs some type of shorefront protection,” said Mayor Nick Russo as he stood on the 11th Avenue terminal jetty.
State and federal authorities have already pledged funding for a beach project along Longport’s oceanfront and upgrades to the jetties that bookend the homes along 11th Avenue and Point Drive.
But residents and borough officials say that won’t be enough.
Hankin, 69, said like many of his neighbors, his home was severely damaged by Sandy. Since then, less-severe storms have caused further damage and, at normal high tide, spray from breaking waves reaches his kitchen door.
“The solution can’t be any more study,” he said. “They’ve studied enough.”
In January, Russo sent a letter to Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin requesting additional shorefront protection between the two jetties. While Martin’s recent response doesn’t outline specific measures, it has given Russo and other officials hope.
“You have my commitment that my team at the DEP will work with you and your team from Longport to try to find an effective solution to the issues you have raised,” the commissioner wrote.
Martin wrote that he plans to “leave the engineering to the engineers,” adding that the ultimate solutions favored tend to be those that can leverage “limited state funds” with federal sources.
A 1992 study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state outlined five possible solutions that would stabilize Longport’s point area, including beachfill and a seawall.
Borough Engineer Dick Carter said a seawall is the preferred solution and probably the least expensive option. In 1992, the Army Corps estimated the cost at $2 million, or about $3.3 million today when accounting for inflation, although that figure does not include the cost of possible beachfill.
The 1917 project, which was revisited several times in the past century, halted Longport’s street-shedding, Carter said. But with properties assessed at $35 million facing the inlet in one block alone, he said something more is needed.
“We’ve ended the erosion,” he said. “Now we’ve got to do the protection. That’s the key.”
Marvin Ashner’s home would also abut the project. After Sandy, the 78-year-old paid nearly $1 million out of pocket for repairs. His insurance company ultimately reimbursed about 80 percent of that figure, but some of his neighbors weren’t as lucky.
Ashner has witnessed many storms during his lifetime — as a young boy, he saw the 1944 hurricane’s impact on Atlantic City — but he’s never considered moving away from his year-round home at the shore.
“I’m hopeful the state will follow through,” he said. “It’s very important to all the houses in this cul-de-sac to get the protection we need.”
Hankin said the problem isn’t limited to the residents of the two streets. If the water continues to over-top the existing revetments, he said, it will eventually eat away at more of the borough.
“No one’s looking for the luxury of beachfront living,” he said. “All the residents want is the ability to go to bed at night and not be concerned about losing their homes by morning.”
The overarching shorefront protection plan has many different components that would tie into the proposed seawall if it’s ultimately approved by the state, Carter said.
While some Longport residents have voiced concern about the future cost of maintaining the dunes component of the shorefront protection plan, borough officials have largely supported it. The Corps estimates the project will pump about 1 million cubic yards of sand onto Longport, resulting in 7,600 linear feet of beach and dune. A cost estimate has not been released.
Carter said the already approved projects, including the dunes, are expected to begin construction in late summer or early fall of this year, although that timeline is still tentative. In November, Margate voters rejected dune-building via referendum, but state officials have said the project there will still move forward.
“We’ve constantly been told by the state and the Corps that (the replenishment) project will take place,” he said. “As to the positioning of the other obligations Margate will have, Longport’s fully committed to protecting its residents regardless of what other municipalities may do.”
Meanwhile, Carter said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has committed about $2.5 million to repair the 11th and Atlantic avenue jetties, as well as the revetment along 11th. Longport will be reimbursed for the $500,000 it paid to complete the latter project last year, he said.
Russo said shorefront protection’s not just a matter protecting property owners, who already sustained serious damage during Sandy, from further losses. Future storms also threaten drinking water, gas and electric lines, the sewer system and street infrastructure, he said.
“This is all about public safety,” he said.
Contact Wallace McKelvey:
@wjmckelvey on Twitter