NORTH WILDWOOD — For now just considered bad form on barrier islands, driving fast enough through flood waters to push water beyond the curb could bring a fine in North Wildwood.
A public hearing and final City Council vote on an ordinance mandating that drivers pass through flooded streets slowly enough to avoid creating a wave was set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18.
City officials have long heard complaints from residents about drivers barreling through flooded streets, according to Mayor Patrick Rosenello.
Like most barrier island communities, North Wildwood sees flooding during severe storms or when a torrential rainfall comes during a high tide. Sometimes, the water is well away from homes and businesses until a large vehicle passes, throwing waves that slam into walls and garages.
“Under this ordinance, you can’t cause any more damage to private homes by causing a wake,” Rosenello said.
No wake zones are a familiar sight to boaters throughout the region, and homeowners sometimes put out signs along roads saying “No Wake” during floods, but it is unusual for towns to specifically ban wakes on flooded streets.
Rosenello does not believe any other town in the Wildwoods has approved a similar ordinance, and North Wildwood appears to be the first in Cape May County to consider such a move. In the spring, Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island approved a similar ordinance, which published reports indicated was the first of its kind in New Jersey.
Sea Isle City has discussed following North Wildwood's lead, according to a report at seaislenews.com. At a recent meeting, a member of council advocated an ordinance designating 'No Wake" zones in certain areas.
According to Ship Bottom Borough Clerk Kathleen Wells, police have already issued some summonses to drivers for ordinance violations, which requires a mandatory appearance in municipal court. She said word gets around quickly after a citation.
“The intent was so that people slow down and minimize the damage from floods,” Wells said.
According to Rosenello, the problem has been discussed for years. In some instances, oversized trucks used by the city during severe flooding have pushed water toward houses, but in other cases, residents and visitors have driven fast through flooded streets, either in hopes of reducing damage to vehicles or just for the fun of it.
“There are times that we get complaints about city vehicles. We are dealing with that internally,” Rosenello said. “In the really bad flooding events, the big vehicles are out.”
But for North Wildwood, the last straw was when a video surfaced of an NJ Transit bus barreling along a flooded street, pushing water before it and throwing a large wake behind, Rosenello said. According to North Wildwood City Clerk Scott Jett, the ordinance as proposed sets a fine of not more than $1,250 for violations, although officials would have the flexibility of imposing a smaller fine.
If council were to vote yes on Tuesday, the ordinance would take effect Dec. 26.
In addition to the ordinance, Rosenello said, plans call for signs to be placed at North Wildwood’s most flood-prone areas, which would light up when streets are flooded to warn motorists to seek another route. Sea Isle City is launching a similar effort, Rosenello said.
“We’re trying to do a better job of keeping cars off of flooded streets,” Rosenello said.