The first preliminary results from a federal- and state-funded study on countering back-bay flooding showed some dramatic and expensive possibilities.
Massive gates could be built to close off ocean inlets ahead of a storm surge — at Absecon Inlet, Barnegat Inlet, Great Egg Harbor Inlet and Manasquan Inlet. That seems like science fiction to Americans, but it has been done elsewhere in the world. One such gate in the Netherlands cost more than half a billion dollars.
Floodwalls and levees would work at locations from Atlantic City to Longport, in Brigantine, Cape May, Ocean City, the Wildwoods, Stone Harbor/Avalon, Sea Isle City and on Long Beach Island.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study also ruled out such structures for some places. Storm-surge barriers wouldn’t be cost-effective or environmentally feasible for the Little Egg Harbor-Brigantine inlet complex or at Hereford Inlet between North Wildwood and Stone Harbor.
This initial phase of an expected three-year, $3 million study only considered where such big structures could be effective in the 950 square miles subject to storm surge and flooding along New Jersey’s ocean and Delaware Bay coasts.
Mega-structures could be worthwhile because the state’s densely populated, low-lying coastal area is at high risk from sea level rise. Whether or not they’re built will depend on how much they cost, their other effects and whether the public supports them.
In future phases of the study, the Army Corps will present the possibilities for using other approaches to reduce flooding, including acquiring properties and relocating people from flood-prone areas; protecting commercial, public and industrial properties with ring levees around them; and natural and nature-based features such as living shorelines and restored marshes, beaches and dunes.
For its part, the state Department of Environmental Protection is developing regional plans that will feed into a comprehensive Coastal Resilience Plan to guide policies, rules and funding to better protect from flooding.
Future phases of the Army Corps study will subject the various potential flood projects to “rigorous evaluation of compliance with environmental protection statutes.”
Once the study is completed, the corps will recommend a flood mitigation plan to Congress. Design and construction of its features will occur after congressional approval and as funding becomes available.
The DEP held public meetings last year on the study and possibilities for reducing flooding. Today is the last day for the public to comment on the first interim report (online at the Army Corps study resources site — search for “nj army corps back bay flooding report”).
Years will pass before work starts, so there will be more opportunities for the public to consider the projects and influence the plan. It promises to transform the Jersey Shore, affect nearly everyone living there and, hopefully, protect them and their properties from the relentlessly rising sea level.