Every island in Cape May County has at least two causeways to the mainland except for Ludlam Island, and Hurricane Sandy had no problem cutting off that access.
The thin strip of land that Sea Isle City and Strathmere call home had its north and south exits blocked by sand or simply washed away, leaving only Sea Isle Boulevard, which was still blanketed with debris.
The Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders authorized spending more than $4.3 million this week to fix those roads and make sure the island is better prepared next time.
Repairs to Ocean Drive in Upper Township are part of refortifying that coastal road in reaction to the storm, but the work to JFK and Sea Isle boulevards has been years in the making.
“It is an important item that we looked at years before, saying ‘Hey, we need to make sure we have access to Sea Isle,’” county Engineer Dale Foster said.
On Thursday, the county authorized an agreement for federal reimbursement for the project to raise Sea Isle Boulevard about 4½ feet. The county is waiting on approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers because the work will require mitigation for filling in surrounding wetlands.
JFK Boulevard will be raised only about 16 inches, with the rest of that $4 million project going to repaving and streetscaping. That will help, but the road’s height is limited because of the buildings around it.
Strathmere, at the northern tip of the island, was even more cut off than Sea Isle during the storm.
The surging ocean tore apart Ocean Drive to the north in Corsons Inlet and covered it with debris, cutting off access from Ocean City to the north.
The waves also went right over the dunes in the Whale Beach area, between Strathmere and Sea Isle, blocking access from the south by leaving a wall of sand on Ocean Drive.
“The fact that we had a breach in Whale Beach really left them isolated,” Upper Township Mayor Rich Palombo said.
All that could be done about Ocean Drive to the south was push the sand off the road. To the north, the county cleared off rocks, trees and sand, repaved areas where asphalt washed away and put in steel sheathes to serve as a temporary bulkhead.
The county has now authorized a contract for about $142,000 for engineering services for a long-term fix, which will include putting more rip-rap rocks in front of the road to protect it from waves.
Repairing Ocean Drive to the south of Townsends Inlet, on the Avalon side of the bridge, will be a much bigger project that Foster estimated would total about $10 million.
The road there was completely swept away in places, with the fierce waves gouging several-foot holes in the road bed. The county will have to rebuild the area and fortify both sides with bulkheads and a more reliable seawall.
Foster said county officials hope to find a contractor for that effort in January. If they can get it done by April, the federal government will reimburse the county for the full amount.
If they don’t, the federal government would pay only for 80 percent of it.
“We’re definitely going to try and do that,” said Foster. “That’s a major cost to the county if we can’t. Two million.”
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