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Atlantic City's nuisance flooding to more than double by 2030, scientists say

ATLANTIC CITY — The federal government is warning Atlantic City residents to brace for a “floodier” future.

By 2030, the resort is projected to see 20 to 35 days of nuisance flooding per year, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report released Wednesday. That’s more than double the nine days of high-tide flooding last year.

Cape May faces a similar future. The city had seven days of nuisance flooding last year but could experience 15 to 30 such days in 2030, the study says.

“The future is already here, a floodier future,” said William Sweet, a NOAA oceanographer and lead author of the study.

In the report, government scientists predict 40 places in the U.S. will experience higher than normal rates of so-called sunny-day flooding this year because of rising sea levels and an abnormal El Nino weather system.

The report predicted annual flood records will be broken again next year and for years and decades to come due to sea-level rise.

“Flooding that decades ago usually happened only during a powerful or localized storm can now happen when a steady breeze or a change in coastal current overlaps with a high tide,” it read.

The nationwide average frequency of sunny-day flooding in 2018 was five days a year, tying a record set in 2015.

But the East Coast averaged twice as much flooding.

The agency says the level of sunny-day flooding in the U.S. has doubled since 2000.

Nationwide, the agency predicted, average sunny-day flooding could reach seven to 15 days a year by 2030, and 25 to 75 days a year by 2050.

“We cannot wait to act,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA’s Ocean Service. “This issue gets more urgent and complicated with every passing day.”

Global sea levels are rising at a rate of about 3 millimeters a year, or about an inch every eight years, according to Rutgers University researchers, who predict that by 2050, seas off New Jersey will rise by an additional 1.4 feet.

The study cited floods interfering with traffic in northeast states, swamping septic systems in Florida and choking Delaware and Maryland coastal farms with saltwater over the past year.

Baltimore experienced 12 days of high-tide flooding from 1902 to 1936. Within the past 12 months, it experienced an additional 12 days.

Robert Kopp, a leading climate scientist with Rutgers University, who was not involved in the study, said it confirmed many well-established trends.

“It’s simple arithmetic: If you have higher sea level, you will have tides causing flooding,” he said. “We’re not talking about disaster flooding. We’re talking about repetitive flooding that disrupts people’s lives on a daily basis. It’s sometimes called ‘nuisance flooding,’ but it has real impacts and costs.”

The report cited the disruption of commerce in downtown Annapolis, Maryland, where parking spaces are lost to flooding. A 2017 study put the price tag on lost economic activity at as much as $172,000. The water table has risen to ground level and degraded septic systems in the Miami region, and farmlands in the Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware and Maryland have been damaged by salt water encroaching into planted areas.

High-tide flooding is causing problems including beach erosion, overwhelmed sewer and drinking water systems, closed roads, disrupted harbor operations, degraded infrastructure and reduced property values — problems that “are nearly certain to get much worse this century,” the report read.

The report’s statistics cover May 2018 through April 2019.

The agency forecasts sunny-day flooding this year in Boston at 12 to 19 days (it had 19 last year); New York (8 to 13 days, compared with 12 last year); Norfolk, Virginia (10 to 15 days; compared to 10 days last year); Charleston, South Carolina (4 to 7 days, compared with 5 last year); Pensacola, Florida (2 to 5 days compared with 4 last year); Sabine Pass, Texas (6 to 13 days, compared with 8 last year); and Eagle Point, Texas (29 to 40 days, compared with 27 last year).

West Coast predictions included San Diego (5 to 9 days compared with 8 last year); Los Angeles (1 to 4 days compared with 5 last year); Humboldt Bay, California (6 to 12 days compared with 12 last year); Toke Point, Washington (9 to 21 days compared with 12 last year); and 2 to 6 days in Seattle, compared with 2 last year.

The report documented that 12 locations broke or tied their record of sunny-day flooding last year, including 22 in Washington, D.C.; 14 in Wilmington, North Carolina; and 12 each in Baltimore and Annapolis.

Staff Writer Avalon Zoppo contributed to this report.

Censure of Cape May freeholder exposes rift in Republican Party

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — An investigation and censure of a Republican freeholder by her peers has exposed divisions within the Cape May County board, which usually decides issues on 5-0 votes.

The all-Republican Board of Chosen Freeholders voted Tuesday night to approve two censures of Freeholder E. Marie Hayes, for allegedly engaging in behavior involving conflicts of interest and retaliation against County Clerk of the Board and Administrator Elizabeth Bozzelli.

Hayes defended herself, calling the investigation that led to the censure biased and the work of an old-boys’ network. She said Freeholder Director Gerald “Jerry” Thornton was angry because she didn’t vote the way he wanted her to on changing Bozzelli’s title from clerk of the board to clerk and county administrator.

The county hired a law firm to look into allegations of improper behavior, and its report found the accusations to be credible, said Thornton. But no one would talk about details of the report, calling it a personnel matter subject to confidentiality.

The board also voted 3-2 to send the investigation to the state Department of Community Affairs’ Local Finance Board for an ethics investigation. There is a second investigation underway involving Freeholder Will Morey, officials said.

Public censure is really a form of public shaming, said John Froonjian, interim executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.

“The purpose of censuring publicly is to say, ‘We disapprove of this behavior,’” Froonjian said.

The censured person is not stripped of powers, expelled or required to resign, he said.

Hayes is running for re-election this year on the same ticket with Thornton, who voted for both censures in a long, raucous meeting in a packed room of mostly Hayes supporters.

The meeting confused and angered audience members, who asked the Republicans to find a different way to deal with friction between Bozzelli and Hayes.

“You people don’t even look like you like each other. You guys should all be together, not tearing each other apart,” said Mary Ann Nespoli, former chairwoman of the Ocean City Republican Party. “Marie I absolutely adore and feel she is being prosecuted. Maybe she did something wrong, but is it worth a censureship? If she did something wrong, reprimand her.”

“The goal was never specifically to go after Freeholder Hayes,” said Thornton, which caused Hayes to guffaw.

“This used to be a really good board. We worked together and moved things forward. Trenton hears us and is responding,” Hayes said in support of a motion made by Morey, which failed, to table the censure vote and instead seek the help of a mediator such as a retired judge. “We’ve all been friends at one point in time, then things changed. They shouldn’t change because of a vote.”

But Thornton denied the investigation and censure were based solely on her voting against Bozzelli’s new title.

Bozzelli brought a claim of retaliation against Hayes over behavior that culminated in an Oct. 23 vote to change her title to both clerk of the board and administrator, a job she had been doing for six years, Bozzelli said.

Morey and Hayes voted against changing her title, but the other three freeholders supported it, and the change was made.

Bozzelli said her responsibilities didn’t change, as she had been doing the administrator’s job since becoming clerk in 2012. Only her title changed, she said, and she subsequently received about a $10,000 to $15,000 raise on a base pay of about $120,000.

“The only reason I feel Ms. Hayes is using this opportunity to vote against me in a job I have been doing for six years,” Bozzelli said after the Oct. 23 vote, “is that in conjunction with the freeholder director, and the director of human resources, I have been directly involved in decisions to document, discipline and not move a family member ... to a fourth position at Ms. Hayes’ request.”

She said then she was “perceiving (Hayes’ vote) as retaliation for doing my job.”

The vote Tuesday night was 3-2 on the question of retaliation, with Thornton and Freeholders Len Desiderio and Jeffrey Pierson voting for the censure. Hayes and Morey voted against it.

On the conflict-of-interest censure, the vote was 4-1, with only Hayes voting no.

Morey said he believed Hayes had stepped over the line in regard to conflict of interest, but that the matter should have been handled by giving her a chance to change her behavior instead of moving to censure.

Few details were made public about what Hayes is alleged to have done that involved conflict of interest, other than to say it involved her son, who is a county employee.

The public doesn’t know what to think when they hear an official has done something worth censuring but can’t get enough details to make a determination for themselves, Froonjian said.

Hayes said her son works as a laborer and makes about $30,000 a year, and “now my son is in a precarious position as a county employee.”

She suggested the county adopt a nepotism policy, and “the public might be interested in knowing how many positions in the county are filled by friends and family members (of freeholders).”

For example, she said, County Counsel and Human Resources Director Jeffrey R. Lindsay is Thornton’s stepson, and Bozzelli’s daughter works in the Surrogate’s Office.

Thornton suggested releasing the report by an independent law firm that found Hayes had engaged in wrongdoing, but Lindsay recommended against it, saying it would go against county policy as the report is a personnel matter and the confidentiality of other employees would be compromised.

Two Democrats are challenging Hayes and Thornton in November: attorneys Stephen W. Barry, of Middle Township, and Elizabeth F. Casey, of Upper Township.

Thornton said after the meeting he and Hayes have not talked about how they will handle their campaign after the change in their relationship due to the investigation and censure vote.

LAUREN CARROLL/Multimedia Reporter  

Above, drag queen Morgan Wells adjusts her wig before the Drag Brunch at Bourre.

Atlantic City's dormant drag scene may be coming alive

ATLANTIC CITY — Sandy Beach sauntered across the stage at Bourre in a sparkling dress and wig singing the Four Seasons’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” when she was, for a split second, interrupted by a water droplet falling from the ceiling.

“They still haven’t fixed this leak,” the 65-year-old drag queen joked after her performance as she tucked a dollar bill into her top at the recently opened Cajun eatery’s monthly drag brunch.

Sandy Beach (Robert) is no stranger to the venue.

She performed at Bourre throughout the 1970s when it was called the Saratoga, a popular gay bar that was one of dozens that lined New York and Kentucky avenues. She lived, for a time, in a boarding house on the Boardwalk where Ripley’s Believe it or Not now stands, with a group of other queens.

But by the end of the following decade, the strip had been bought and demolished by developers and subsequently left vacant, and the AIDS crisis put a strain on the gay community in Atlantic City, historians say. Throughout the 2000s, all that was left of the resort’s once bustling drag community were a few bars: Studio Six, which closed in 2007, and Resorts Casino Hotel’s ProBar.

Over the past few years, though, there’s been somewhat of a resurgence in Atlantic City, following the popularity of the cable-TV competition “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and societal changes. A slew of glittery, lighthearted casino productions and more theatrical cabaret shows have been popping up, and to some, it’s clear the resort’s drag culture has evolved.

GALLERY: Miss’d America Pageant in Atlantic City

“I’m wearing jeans and my sneakers,” Sandy Beach said as she lifted up her long skirt to reveal baggy men’s clothing underneath. “That’s how it was. If you went outside with the blue laws, you’d get arrested. Nowadays, with ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ you can wear a G-string, put pasties on ... and go, ‘I’m here.’”

The audiences have become straighter, and the jokes less political, as drag in the resort moves from its scrappy roots in gay bars to mainstream entertainment in casinos, said Laurie Greene, an associate professor of anthropology at Stockton University writing a book about the co-evolution of the Miss America pageant and its drag counterpart, the Miss’d America contest.

Forty years ago, Greene said, queens would go to a thrift store to throw together a cheap outfit and their sets would largely consist of jokes only a local, gay audience could understand. The performances would often be political, and the production value not as extravagant. Each queen would create her own character.

“Drag was an expression of the gay language, which is camp,” Greene said. “Now it’s seen as a nonthreatening entryway into the gay community.”

In 2016, Diva Royale began weekly drag shows at Tropicana Atlantic City, the same year RuPaul won his first Emmy award for “Drag Race.” Catering to bachelorette parties, four queens sing and do celebrity impersonations, from actress/singer/dancer Jennifer Lopez to country star Dolly Parton.

And last month, Golden Nugget Atlantic City hosted a Spice Girls-themed drag brunch, complete with mimosas and Bloody Marys.

“It’s more mainstream now than ever,” said Armand Peri, CEO of the production company that runs Diva Royale in 19 cities across the country.

You can find queens reading to kids, too. Philadelphia queen Brittany Lynn visited Dante Hall Theater last month for a story time event hosted by Stockton and arts nonprofit 48 Blocks. Similar literacy programs have been held throughout the U.S.

Brittany Lynn (real name Ian Morrison) began working in South Jersey in 1996 and has performed in a number of casinos and hotels along the Boardwalk, including the now-closed Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, the Claridge and Caesars Atlantic City. Outside of the few gay bars that have come and gone over the years, Lynn said she was booked for appearances at straight casino nightclubs and cabaret-style shows through the 2000s.

“Drag is always a staple at any kind of event because it’s so mainstream now. Any place you can imagine reaches out. Everybody wants drag queens,” said Lynn, founder of the performance group Philly Drag Mafia.

It’s not just more drag shows popping up in the city recently, but a wider variety of them.

Philadelphia queen Martha Graham Cracker is appearing at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa for the first time next month for a “rock-and-roll drag cabaret” at the Music Box with keyboardist Victor Fiorillo. And at the Showboat Atlantic City hotel in August, the traveling cabaret/drag troupe the Bearded Ladies will put on a theatrical, experimental production. Donning avant-garde makeup and outfits, the group’s website says they “tackle the politics of gender, identity and artistic intervention.”

For a laid-back afternoon, filled with bright costumes and lip syncing, there’s Bourre’s monthly drag brunch off the Boardwalk on New York Avenue.

The brunch started about nine months ago, after the restaurant’s owners, Diana Grossman and Charlie Interrante, were approached by Greene and others about the building’s colorful history.

Coming from Asbury Park, where there’s a thriving gay community, Grossman said she wanted to create a similar atmosphere in Atlantic City.

“Asbury Park is full of colorful people and where the gays are loud and proud, and we realized it wasn’t like that in Atlantic City,” Grossman said. “We just wanted to do something to say we want you here. ... It’s been catching on.”

GALLERY: Miss'd America through the years

Groups coming to terms over Lucy the Elephant

MARGATE — Fifty years ago, Lucy the Elephant was an orphan facing a long, slow death by neglect.

Now, she has a city government and a nonprofit vying for the right to represent her interests. And the two groups seem to have found a way to co-parent, even if there is still some disagreement over who owns the pachyderm hotel-turned-tourist attraction.

Each group is expected to vote in the coming week to approve a new 20-year lease agreement that renews automatically every five years and gives the city more representation on the Save Lucy Committee’s board.

Hotel overlay zone is dead, Margate officials tell angry residents

MARGATE — The plan to create an overlay zone that would allow for the development of a hotel project along the beach in Margate had already been tabled earlier this month. Misinformation and a lack of understanding about the new zoning designation, as city officials described it, had seen to that.

It also promises, as previous leases have, that no development will happen on the Lucy property without the committee’s permission.

“I think the vote’s going to be positive for both boards. It’s been six or eight years in the making, and both sides have come to a mutual understanding of what’s in Lucy’s best interest,” said Lucy the Elephant Executive Director Rich Helfant. The Save Lucy Committee board is set to vote on the lease Sunday.

“I would hope (for a positive Lucy committee vote),” said Mayor Michael Becker. “A lot of work went into this. I don’t see any problems.”

City Commission is set to vote on the lease July 18 but will only take a vote if the Lucy committee approves it Sunday, Becker said.

The old lease runs out at the end of the year, and if the new one passes both entities, it will take effect immediately.

The language that requires the Lucy committee to agree to any proposed development is essential, Helfant said.

“It’s most important because of all the speculation and craziness that happened about a year ago, with rumors of a hotel being built,” he said.

About a year ago, the owners of Ventura’s Greenhouse restaurant next to Lucy were considering building a multistory hotel, and City Commission proposed creating a hotel zone overlay along Atlantic Avenue between Cedar Grove and Coolidge avenues, which included the Lucy property.

It caused an outcry in town, with residents saying Margate’s residential character was being threatened, and some Lucy supporters feeling her future on the oceanfront was in doubt. After much protest, commissioners announced the hotel overlay zone was dead.

“That was overdone,” said Becker, adding no one ever proposed changing the residential character of the city or taking Lucy’s land.

Becker said he has always been opposed to any large-scale development in Margate, but feels the city could use a small venue where people can stay overnight.

The votes on the lease are slated to happen just as the Lucy committee, which runs the tourist attraction and has raised all the money to renovate the iconic structure for 50 years, embarks on a $500,000 exterior surface restoration project, Helfant said.

“Because Lucy has been painted so many times since restoration began in 1970, we can’t paint her anymore. It bubbles off,” Helfant said. “It needs to be stripped down to the bare metal and repainted.”

If you look closely at Lucy’s hide, you can see how the paint is bubbling and peeling, Helfant said.

This summer, paint will be stripped off Lucy’s belly and legs, and different coating products will be tried in each part.

“We will let them weather for a year,” Helfant said. “At the end of the year, we will determine which held up the best.”

Then next year the rest of Lucy will be stripped and repainted.

“It’s a major undertaking,” Helfant said.

To help raise the half-million dollars needed, the committee is selling commemorative coins for $19.69 each (for 1969, the year of the group’s founding).

“We are trying to have a yearlong celebration,” Helfant said. “We’ll start on Lucy’s birthday this year, then next year July 20 will be the 50th anniversary of the day we moved her from Cedar Grove Avenue to Decatur (Avenue) — we’ll have a parade to commemorate.”

In 1970, the newly formed committee arranged for a house mover to jack Lucy up onto dollies attached to a pickup truck and pull her two blocks to where she sits today, Helfant said.

“Everybody thought she would crumble, but it survived,” said Helfant, who was 13 at the time and remembers it took seven hours to move her two blocks. “The next part of her history was started.”

Look Back at Lucy the Elephant