Community ThanksgivingThe Beachcomber
The Superstorm Sandy disaster and recovery on Long Beach Island, as chronicled for seven months by the staff of The SandPaper. Part 5.
The Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, only slightly damaged by the storm, invited the public to Loveladies for a Friday, Nov. 16 “Relax, Recover, Rebuild” social, with free food and music from Maryann Haug and Chuck Paul. “Perhaps we were mostly spared for a reason. With so much pain after the wreckage on the Island, the LBIF looked for a way to reach out to so many who have suffered, as well as to those who have helped,” said a follow-up letter to donors from Olivia Sheridan, LBIF president, and Christopher Seiz, executive director. “For a few hours, the community came together, returned briefly to normalcy, and celebrated being alive.” More than 200 people showed up to partake of hoagies, pizza, beverages and snacks while sharing their individual tales of woe and restoration. Among them were Joe and Judy Gregg of Fort Wayne, Indiana, on LBI to gratefully find their oceanfront house in Brant Beach was saved by the spring 2012 beach replenishment. They had laughed to see some humor amid the endless street piles of ruined household belongings; one pile was flippantly marked with a “Garage Sale” sign, another displayed a sign saying, “Free – from Sandy.”
“There’s a saying about street trash on Long Beach Island: Nothing ever leaves the Island, because it will show up in someone’s rental apartment,” Joe remarked. “But I think this time, stuff will leave the Island.”
Also on Nov. 16, an initial planning meeting involved pro surfer and W4W Waves for Water founder Jon Rose, who in coming months shared his international experience in organizing disaster response volunteers.
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Near the end of the third week, there was another step toward normalcy: The Beach Haven Public Library reopened, although without heat. A few patrons were glad to visit a comforting place in town. Remarkably, Sandy had entirely missed the 1920s-era landmark on the corner of Third Street and Beach Avenue. “In the basement, all we got were some puddles. There wasn’t even an inch or two of water,” said library director Jean Frazier. “Our heater wasn’t damaged. It is a good thing that our building property is on higher ground.” Natural gas service was restored on the weekend.
The Long Beach Island Library in Surf City was ready to reopen on Monday, Nov. 19. There was no interior flood damage, but the building had needed restoration of natural gas service, said Branch Manager Linda Feaster.
Kapler’s Pharmacy in Beach Haven announced a reopening – although temporarily moved from their landmark building on the corner of Centre Street to the Regenerate shop next door on Bay Avenue. The headline on their business ad: “Hope Floats.”
That was the exact sentiment found with John Coyle at his Sink ’R Swim Shops in Haven Beach. On Tuesday, Nov. 20, the 72-year-old businessman was hard at work, determined that his tenants could reopen their 10 specialty shops this week. “We decided we had to be open for Thanksgiving – had to be,” remarked Coyle, who owns Sink ’R Swim with his wife, Gretchen. The family business had started more than 50 years ago in Harvey Cedars; the March Storm of ’62 literally wiped it out up there. Coyle’s parents started over again in Haven Beach, building up one of the Island’s most successful businesses. Never mind that the December 1992 nor’easter flooded them out again. With Sandy giving a new punch – 3½ feet of floodwater – Coyle was more than capable of punching back. “I get, like, a rush,” he said, describing the uncommon energy he finds in storm recovery work which, he hopes, helps inspire other business owners downcast by the challenge. “It gives me something to do. I love sailing, but you can get bored of sailing.”
By the end of Tuesday, New Jersey Natural Gas had finished restoring service to 8,500 Island properties everywhere except for the 630 properties in Holgate – and work there would begin the next day to re-pressurize the gas main. Things were continuing to look up.
The Mud City Crab House on Old East Bay Avenue in Stafford Township was inundated by mainland flooding on Oct. 29. Yet the closed restaurant was a rallying point this week as 2,400 pounds of frozen turkeys, along with other donated goods, were prepped for an anticipated 1,000-plate free dinner to be held Thanksgiving Day at Southern Regional Middle School. Restaurant owners Eric and Melanie Magaziner stepped up to organize the dinner when it was obvious traditional Thanksgiving dinner sites, including St. Francis Parish in Brant Beach and other area churches or firehouses, were unable to host dinners this time because of flood damage or storm victim relief operations already occupying those sites. Once the dinner was scheduled at Southern Regional, donations of time, money and material poured in from local residents and business owners. “We have friends who are out every day helping people,” said Melanie. “And it dawned on me that we have so much as a community to be thankful for. This is something I am capable of doing.”
Harvey Cedars resident John M. Imperiale poignantly expressed the Island’s rising spirit best in his commentary for the Thanksgiving week issue of The SandPaper: “Americans from across America, here, helping, working 16- or 18-hour days. No amount of thanks or praise is enough to recognize the effort and work of so many. But that should not stop us from trying. So don’t just pass by the workers on our roads; stop and shout out a ‘thank you.’ And the next time you have the opportunity, give. Give a little more time, or money, or kind words, whatever you can, to the people and organizations that are unselfishly serving us.”
On the same page, NJ National Guard First Lt. Eric J. Shaw wrote, “My soldiers and airmen have been deeply affected by their experience here in weeks following Superstorm Sandy and they are truly inspired by your resolve… You are our neighbors, our friends and our family, and you will be in our thoughts and prayers as we continue onto our next mission. God bless you as you continue in your mission toward recovery.”
On the mainland, host Tuckerton Seaport and other sponsors invited the public to a free Thanksgiving dinner served four hours during Saturday afternoon, Nov. 24. A huge tent was set up and heated to accommodate the crowd. “Our [Seaport] family invites all local families, regardless of need, to come together on Thanksgiving Weekend to enjoy a meal together and to give thanks,” said Paul Hart, Seaport director. The Seaport was coping with its own losses after the storm surge crossed the bay and traveled the entire length of Tuckerton Creek. The damage report totaled $300,000, according to Hart.
Habitat for Humanity chapter president John Steele added his praise for those at the Dutchman’s Brauhaus on Cedar Bonnet Island, which hosted a Thanksgiving Day buffet and then a Nov. 24 comedy night fundraiser: “For the weekend, the Dutchman’s helped raise more than $6,000 for Habitat for Humanity,” said Steele. “Friends of the Schmid family were on hand to lend a hand while the wait staff and bartenders donated their tips. It was overwhelming.”
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One might think it’s a stretch to mention a beach bench among Thanksgiving blessings, but there’s a story in that, too. The family of Harvey Cedars summer resident Tony Cannizzo, who died in March 2012, purchased a bench and inscribed it in his memory. Sandy stole it from the end of Mercer Street. When Patty Gahles uncovered it eight miles south at her sister’s house in Haven Beach, she searched the Internet to find a Cannizzo family contact so the bench could be returned. “I had to get a hold of somebody. I knew it meant a lot to the family,” said Gahles.
Similar stories emerged from Long Beach Island. Three missing memorial benches from Ship Bottom set sail in the other direction, and were later recovered a dozen miles north near Seaside Park and Island Beach State Park. One was a memorial bench dedicated to the late Christopher Cramer of Manahawkin, killed Sept. 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center attack. “Today was like a miracle,” his sister, Susan Kinney of Manahawkin, said when notified a Seaside Park resident discovered the bench Jan. 12 on a sedge island.
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Late in November, Long Beach Township Mayor Mancini submitted a letter to the editor to reaffirm his view that certain oceanfront property owners should be accountable for much of the storm surge damage to LBI: “At the current time, the total cost of recovery is incalculable. We feel it only fair to Long Beach Township taxpayers that the cost of cleanup and restoration in sections of our town not protected by the federal beach replenishment project be borne by those oceanfront property owners who refused to join in the project by executing their deeds of easement.” That broad statement encompassed all of the township’s 12 miles of oceanfront, except for the 26-block stretch in part of Brant Beach protected by the spring 2012 dune replenishment. Adding his take on the issue was Bill Kunz, chairman of the LBT Beach Replenishment Committee, who wrangled for years, with little success, against the beach easement holdouts. “This letter is being written because I am bitter … because beach replenishment could have been started four years ago [and] would have lessened the seriousness of Sandy’s wrath on some of our fellow Islanders … The real reason they didn’t sign – money.”
At this time, Mancini and the other two township commissioners decided they would start enforcing the town’s 1980s-era dune maintenance ordinance that, in practical terms, meant any property owners who still refuse to sign an easement for government beachfill work would now be responsible, at their own expense, to repair any dune erosion on their property.
Since Sandy, 22 oceanfront property owners in the township – most in Holgate – ended their holdout and signed beach easements. Yet attorney Kenneth Porro let it be known the fierce debate was not over. In an interview for the Nov. 28 SandPaper, he insisted the core issue is wording in the easement document: “People read it and they get worried that they’ll have a boardwalk or public bathrooms in front of their homes. They ask about that, and they’re told that isn’t going to happen. If that’s the case, that should be put in writing, but it isn’t.” But Porro also stuck by the argument that his oceanfront clients would be losing value if they signed easements to allow beachfill work in front of their houses. “When you take away a portion of a property for the public good, the property owner is entitled to receive fair compensation.” He said Harvey Cedars had taken the right legal course when they resorted to eminent domain proceedings for 11 easement holdout properties.
Harvey Cedars Clerk Daina Dale said that with only six of the 11 cases resolved, the process had already cost the town $1.5 million in legal fees, engineering costs and settlements or judgments for four property owners in the amounts of $375,000; $282,000; $165,000; and $150,000.
At a Nov. 27 town meeting, Ship Bottom Councilman Thomas Tallon and Mayor William Huelsenbeck lay most blame for their town’s flooding on the ocean, not the bay – implying blame lies with oceanfront homeowners who blocked the federal beachfill project. The storm surge sent “rivers down borough streets,” said Tallon. And that, according to Huelsenbeck, caused water to rise in town hall 3 feet in 10 minutes. “That was not caused by bay flooding,” said the mayor.
“What kind of science are you using?” countered oceanfront resident Ed Polling, whose opinion was the flooding was just as much from rising bay water. Polling had signed his easement for beachfill work, but he said it was wrong to vilify oceanfront property owners who refused to sign.
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Thanksgiving Weekend closed out with a big push from an estimated 1,000 volunteers who got to work at numerous sites on Saturday, Nov. 24. Beach Haven resident Todd Stone launched the LBI Community Cleanup idea on Facebook, and he asked Chris Huch, Alliance for a Living Ocean director, to organize it. The volunteers met in Manahawkin and then dispersed to the Island, as well as to many hard-hit areas of the mainland. “Our group of organizers wanted to set the stage for people volunteering,” said Huch. “But the actual initiative was really taken care of by all of the volunteers. And that was really exciting to see.” n
Next Week: Candlelight Christmas.
Read the series at thesandpaper.net under the Columns tab.