Flood mitigation efforts are targeting the low-hanging fruit, a sign the nation’s coastal communities are in the early stages of addressing overdevelopment next to rising seas.
A choice piece of such fruit is the flood-prone area of the Black Horse Pike in the West Atlantic City section of Egg Harbor Township. Many consider it blighted and six small motels there already have been demolished.
Recently the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the township a $2.45 million grant to tear down four more hotels and turn the land into open space. The motel owners have agreed to sell them for their assessed value, an average of about $500,000 each.
Some readers have expressed doubts about getting value for the money spent, focusing on the visual improvement to a main road into Atlantic City and what will probably be a seldom-used greenspace.
But FEMA is looking at what properties cost its flood insurance program. It paid out $3.8 million for 56 flooding claims by these four motels just in the past decade. With sea levels rising and N.J. coastal land subsiding, the flood insurance program almost certainly would wind up paying more than the grant amount.
Even those substantial benefits are not all. This strip of motels along the pike has had more than its share of criminal activity, most infamously the 2006 killing of four presumed prostitutes. That still unsolved case left sad families and friends without closure, and brought repeated national attention of the worst kind to the region. The victims’ bodies were found behind one of the motels that was demolished in 2015, with funds then coming from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
New Jersey already has a project, expected to start next year, to address the frequent flooding of the highway, also known as Route 40. It will raise a one-mile stretch of the road 2.5 feet.
Two motels will be left in the strip. One is on higher ground and didn’t have the repeated flood losses needed to qualify for acquisition under the FEMA flood mitigation program. The other refused to sell to the township.
Turning the whole strip into a greenway would have been optimal for many reasons, but this grant to Egg Harbor Township will get a lot done for the money. The experience of arriving visitors will be improved, crime in the township will be reduced, and when the next destructive storm arrives, the damage and cost will be much less.
Look for much more mitigation like this along the Jersey Shore going forward.