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Stockton researchers reveal flood sensor findings to Coastal Coalition

AVALON — Three and a half years after the destructive winter storm that inspired their project, Stockton University researchers revealed some of the 1.6 million data points their flood-tracking sensors have since gathered in coastal communities.

Working with the New Jersey Coastal Coalition, the researchers from Stockton’s Coastal Research Center installed $300 cigar-sized sensors on the underside of 13 storm drains in Avalon and seven in Longport, in areas identified by local authorities as hot spots for “nuisance flooding,” to gather hard data and determine their practical applications.

On Thursday, they laid out preliminary findings.

For example, from Aug. 28, 2017, to Feb. 25, 2019, there were 151 nuisance flooding events in Avalon and 235 in Longport, the researchers found.

Rutgers University scientists project the sea level will rise by 10 feet by 2100 in New Jersey if carbon emissions remain high, so it’s no wonder other towns are paying attention. It could directly inform their flood resiliency efforts going forward.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time that anybody in New Jersey has recorded this kind of flooding information in terms of knowing when they started, how long they lasted, how deep the flood was,” said Stewart Farrell, director of the Coastal Research Center. “I’ve been excited as hell about this since 2016 when we started it after this storm called Jonas.”

The researchers hope to release their final report by the end of August or in September. Prompted by the destruction of Winter Storm Jonas in January 2016, the sensors were installed in August 2017. With GPS units attached to track their elevation as water rises, the sensors have recorded the ambient pressure around them every four minutes since their installation. Their findings back up anecdotal evidence of nuisance flooding hot spots. Charts shown in Avalon’s Municipal Building on Thursday showed the duration of flooding and how high the water rose above the street during specific incidents of heavy rain.

Fielding questions from representatives from a number of coastal communities, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection, among others, Farrell and Mathew Suran discussed the possible uses of their on-the-ground findings.

They can be leveraged for funding for infrastructure improvements, for starters.

“Whether it’s a coastal event or a nuisance flooding or a rainwater event, there’s a number of things we can do. It just takes money,” said Tom Quirk, executive director of the New Jersey Coastal Coalition. “We have to take this scientific data to our legislators and say ... ‘You have to help us defend ourselves.’”

Their presentation also introduced the possibility of using their findings to inform property owners of incoming flood events.

Jonas brought two feet of street flooding and destroyed about 40 cars in Ventnor alone, according to Quirk’s estimate.

Semi-automated systems, like text alerts and Reverse 911, could be used to contact owners in hyperlocal areas when weather and tides align for flooding conditions, giving them enough time to move their vehicles.

“There’s conditions (that are) set up to do this,” Farrell said.

One of the biggest limitations of their work, said Suran, is getting the closest, most accurate rain gauge to their sensors. For Avalon, their most reliable rain gauge is at the Cape May County Airport in Rio Grande.

“You don’t have major fronts coming through like in the winter,” Farrell said, “where if you measured it at the Atlantic City Airport, it would probably rain the same amount down here.”

The data could also be used to address the public safety concerns of flooding for pedestrians, and to do cost-benefit analyses of installing pump stations.

“Remember, pump stations aren’t free. What is it, about $700,000 a piece?” Farrell said. “But if you can go from 55 flood events a year to three ... it might have a value.”

Atlantic City's new law regulating sober living homes questioned
Sober living properties Atlantic City 7-2019

ATLANTIC CITY — A recently adopted local ordinance regulating how close sober living homes can operate from one another is being put to the test in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood.

The Hansen Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit that operates residential housing for those in drug and alcohol addiction recovery, purchased two properties — 16 S. Tallahassee Ave. and 114 S. Raleigh Ave. — whose locations could run afoul of a 2018 law restricting proximity of such facilities to 660 feet.

The two homes are each within the boundary of existing sober living facilities operated by Oxford House on Bartram and Atlantic avenues.

Some homeowners in Chelsea, with the support of their ward councilman, are pushing back against the expanding number of sober living homes in the neighborhood and want the law to be strictly enforced. They say their concerns about the number of sober living homes in the neighborhood center on the impact on safety and property values as well as the overall effectiveness of the facilities when they begin to cluster.

Sober living properties Atlantic City 7-2019

Jennifer Hansen, co-founder of the Hansen Foundation, said she believed the ordinance to be unlawful because it violates the federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Keith Davis, the foundation’s attorney, said his client does not want to pursue legal action and would rather reach an amicable solution with the city. Davis said there is “strong federal case law and statutes that protect the residents of these homes to be able to live where they want to live.”

“All we’re asking for is for these folks to be treated the same way any other family would be treated in any community,” he said. “We’re hopeful that we can achieve that understanding with the City of Atlantic City, and other communities, because the work that Hansen House is doing is really important.”

Hansen said the ordinance applies only to community residences that offer a range of in-house services and supervision, which differ from the state-sanctioned Oxford House locations that are peer-governed recovery homes.

“We’re trying to give (people) safe housing,” she said. “We’re trying to make that housing the highest standard of any sober living.”

A 2018 study conducted by the Walter Rand Institute at Rutgers University-Camden found the Hansen Foundation’s sober living homes had an 80% success rate of maintained sobriety after one year for residents.

“We teach recovering addicts how to get their life back and how to become adults and how to learn how to live again,” Hansen said. “Treatment works. But, you know, people need sober living, and they need well-run sober living houses.”

The Hansen Foundation purchased both properties in 2019, county property records show. The home on Tallahassee was bought for $395,000 and the one on Raleigh for $405,000.

Hansen said she already received an order from the city to vacate the Tallahassee Avenue home after relocating residents from a facility on Bartram Avenue. The foundation is in the process of renovating the multifamily home on Raleigh Avenue, she said.

A request to speak with the city’s licensing and inspections director, Dale Finch, received no response from the Mayor’s Office.

The Atlantic City ordinance has its genesis in regulations found in Florida, where residential treatment centers were beginning to cluster, said 6th Ward Councilman Jesse Kurtz, who represents Chelsea on City Council.

Kurtz said the primary concern in the neighborhood is that it could become a “de facto social services district” and “change the character of the neighborhood.”

In researching how communities in Florida responded, Kurtz and several Chelsea residents said they found a study from Delray Beach that indicated that the clustering of sober living homes had an adverse effect on recovery.

“It’s really not fair to any community to permit a situation under the name of help where a neighborhood becomes so concentrated and so clustered with these homes that it both damages the residential character of the neighborhood and hurts the people it’s designed to help,” Kurtz said. “This is a good law, and it should be enforced.”

Chelsea resident John Sharra said he was concerned about the safety of his family, which includes four children and his wife, because of a sober living home on the beach block of Bartram Avenue.

“I have recovering addicts right behind my house, smoking cigarettes all day,” he said. “I really don’t want it.”

Diego and Emma Escobar have owned a summer home on Bartram Avenue for nearly 25 years. The couple said they met with Finch recently when they heard about the potential for another sober living home opening in the neighborhood.

“We’re not saying that sober living homes shouldn’t exist. We get it. We get them (needing to be) normalized into society so they can get back on their feet, working. It’s a good thing,” Emma Escobar said. “It’s the clustering that we’re concerned about and the density.”

The two houses operated by Hansen and the three operated by Oxford House are known recovery homes, but Kurtz conceded there could be more in the city of which officials are unaware.

Kurtz said he worked with the state Department of Community Affairs, which has oversight of Atlantic City following the 2016 takeover, to ensure the ordinance was both “common sense and compassionate.”

The DCA did not immediately respond to several questions about why the ordinance was adopted in Atlantic City or how it can be enforced.

Sober living residents defend recovery in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — The residents of the all-women sober living home on Tallahassee Avenue have little doubt about what would happen if a local ordinance is enforced and Serenity House is shut down.

“If there wasn’t Serenity House, I would be back on the streets, I would be back homeless, if I even made it that long. Or I’d just be dead,” said Haylee LaTour, a 22-year-old resident.

An Atlantic City ordinance passed in 2018 limits the proximity at which sober living homes can operate from one another to 660 feet, putting the residents of Serenity House at risk of being without a place to live.

“It baffles me, and it’s just so sad that everyone’s going on about this heroin epidemic and this drug epidemic and (saying), ‘What can we do?’ Well, here’s a group of people that are giving Atlantic City a solution. And they’re still fighting us,” said Angela Porreca, 29, who works for Serenity after completing her recovery stay. “If these residents are displaced, that’s dozens and dozens and dozens of people that are going to end up on the street just a couple of blocks down the road.”

Sober living properties Atlantic City 7-2019

The home on Tallahassee is operated by the Hansen Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit that runs sober living homes throughout South Jersey. The house was purchased in 2019 for $395,000, and residents moved into the home June 1.

Jennifer Hansen, co-founder of the nonprofit, and the group’s attorney, Keith Davis, said the Atlantic City ordinance — the only such law in New Jersey — violates the federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Davis said his client does not want to take legal action and would prefer to come to an amicable solution with the city.

Some homeowners in the Chelsea neighborhood, with the support of their ward councilman, Jesse Kurtz, are pushing to have the ordinance enforced and limit the amount of sober living homes that are clustered in the neighborhood.

In the meantime, Hansen has received an order to vacate the home on Tallahassee. The city has also put a stop work order on several small maintenance issues in the home, including the air-conditioning and some electrical and plumbing work, said Terri Burns, director of operations for the Hansen Foundation.

Hanging in the balance are the residents of Serenity House, who all agree that the supervised, structured support model used by the Hansen Foundation has been the difference in maintaining sobriety and working toward long-term recovery.

The maximum stay for a Serenity resident is 18 months. All residents are routinely drug-tested and must be employed after a set period of time.

Melissa Loupos, 29, assistant director for Hansen and an alumna of Serenity House, said the residents benefit from assistance and support with basic life skills and self-care.

“When you’re new in recovery and you have lived so long with a substance in your body, even (simple things like) taking a shower or cooking food, everything you did under the influence, you have to relearn how to do anything,” she said.

But the biggest benefit the recovery home provides is a support system, the residents said.

“It’s what we need. It’s not an end-all, be-all here. No one is going to live here for the rest of their lives. But it really is pointing us in the right direction,” said Reinna Rebetje, 24. “It’s a great stepping stone before we make that next move in our lives.”

Loupos, who has been sober for 6½ years and worked for Serenity House for five, said if the prospect of losing her safe place at Serenity was in jeopardy while she was a resident, it would have had devastating effects.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that it would monumentally shake my entire life. The recovery foundation that I built would be completely shattered,” she said. “I don’t believe that I would be alive today if that happened six years ago. I’m not confused about that. There’s no middle-of-the-road solution in recovery today. It’s change or die.”

Burns said Serenity House residents “just want to be good neighbors” and welcomed a discussion with anyone who wants to know more about how sober living homes operate in a community.

“We are human beings. Yes, we are sick people and we’ve made mistakes. We’re not perfect. But, at the end of the day, if we recover, we have a lot to offer and give to other people,” Loupos said. “I found that foundation in a recovery house and people need that and deserve the right to live in a recovery house.”

Atlantic City police to enforce juvenile curfew

ATLANTIC CITY — In response to recent juvenile gun violence in the city, police will enforce a 10 p.m. curfew for young people, the department said Thursday.

The curfew ordinance, which has been in place since 2006, prohibits anyone younger than 18 from being in public places without a parent between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“We just want our youth to be on notice that it’s unacceptable to be out on the streets (at) that time of night because nothing good can come out of that,” police Chief Henry White said Tuesday.

Juveniles who violate the ordinance will be brought to the Public Safety Building on Atlantic Avenue and a parent or guardian will be notified, police said. Violators and their guardians can be issued summonses, and penalties could include fines of as much as $1,000 and community service.

Exceptions to the ordinance include emergencies, leaving work and being accompanied by a parent or guardian.

At the time the ordinance was established, City Council had determined there had been an increase in juvenile violence, juvenile gang activity and crimes being committed by “persons under the age of 18 years old,” according to the measure.

“Unfortunately, the same can be said today,” police spokesman Kevin Fair said in a news release. “With the recent violence in Atlantic City against our youth and committed by our youth, it is time that we take action.”

The city had its seventh fatal shooting last month, the last three of which involved teenagers: 15-year-old Na’imah Bell, 18-year-old Katusca Robles and 16-year-old Quran Bazemore.

“So many people, parents and everybody, they want us to do it,” White said. “So we’re really going to take a strict approach to kids being out on the streets after 10 p.m.”

Danielle Fletcher, a lifelong city resident who lost her 17-year-old son to gun violence in 2016, said she supports the new initiative, especially since she has a 14-year-old son.

Council President Marty Small, who joined the governing body in 2004, was involved in the original curfew ordinance and said that in 2006 they intended to bring back a citywide siren system he said went off once at 9:30 p.m. and again at 11 p.m.

“If you were in the streets past those sirens by the time they went off, you were in violation of curfew,” Small said.

Fletcher said the sirens the city used in the late ‘80s had a sound similar to a hurricane or tornado warning.

“When you heard it, it was time to get your butt in the house,” she said. “Not just police patrolling the streets, we need that siren back.”

Fletcher also thinks more should be done to improve the lives of the city’s youth.

“There’s kids out here that can’t go home. They don’t have a home to go to,” she said. “That’s the next thing that we need to be working on for our children out here in the community.”

Small said the city should do more to prevent youth violence through a program that brings back someone who has lived through street life and will talk to at-risk teens.

“We need to get those horns back operable, but more importantly, we want a comprehensive, year-round plan in place,” Small said. “Make no mistake about it, and I don’t want anybody to get it confused. The problem doesn’t end when the summer ends.”

VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press/  

Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White talks about the years he spent living in the building at left at Carolina Village in the city. He was raised in Atlantic City and purchased his first home in the city. In 1998, he moved his family to Galloway Township, having purchased a larger home with more land, but two of his three adult sons own homes in the city.