Sandy – A Reckoning

Candlelight Christmas

The Beachcomber
By NEAL J. ROBERTS | Aug 04, 2013
Photo by: Jack Reynolds As winter drew near, most of the huge piles of ruined household material and furniture had been carted away from streets in Ship Bottom and elsewhere on Long Beach Island.

The Superstorm Sandy disaster and recovery on Long Beach Island, as chronicled for seven months by the staff of The SandPaper. Part 6.

 

By the time November was over, FEMA had processed 144,069 claims for emergency housing assistance in New Jersey; one third, more than 49,000, came from Ocean County. FEMA disbursed $133 million for displaced Ocean County residents; most was for residents north of LBI but it also went to thousands of year-round residents across the bay in Beach Haven West, Tuckerton Beach and Mystic Island. For many, though, the pace of aid was still too slow or too little.

St. Francis Community Center Director Connie Becraft announced on Dec. 4 a $50,000 local grant from the OceanFirst Foundation to be disbursed in coming weeks to persons still in need. OceanFirst Bank had pledged $500,000 in disaster relief for New Jersey families. “Anyone is eligible for this. And if they have a FEMA claim number, that’s great,” said Becraft from the community center’s temporary location at St. Mary’s Parish in Manahawkin. The center in Brant Beach, which celebrated its 40th anniversary during 2012, was on pace to complete flood damage repairs for a January reopening.

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The Dec. 7 Long Beach Township Commission meeting was a forum for the hornets nest issue of beach replenishment and the oceanfront property owners who refused to sign easements to allow the work. The mood was anger and frustration, with several residents urging legal action against the holdouts, for the sake of public safety and property protection. Mayor Joseph Mancini said the town cannot take the lead on that move, but if residents were to organize a class-action lawsuit, he hoped the town would be permitted to join as plaintiff.

Retired corporate attorney and year-round Ship Bottom resident Kevin M. Rooney chimed in with a commentary in this week’s SandPaper: “… I suggest we all demand an explanation from our neighbors who have refused to sign an easement and that we press on with them until we’ve convinced the misinformed ones and identified the selfish and greedy ones who would see this Island wash away, leaving nothing of their dune, their house and their community, rather than do the right thing. Then, at least, we’ll know exactly who and what we’re dealing with in this shameful chapter in the Island’s history.”

Chris Huch of Tuckerton raised a different point in the widening debate about beach replenishment. “I find more fault,” he wrote in a letter to the editor, “with the previous state and local governments that allowed people to build in high-risk zones, and the current officials that push replenishment as the savior of our coasts, for perpetuating a false sense of security…. Zoning restrictions after the 1962 storm were excellent, but slowly and surely they have been reduced due to loopholes, allowances and the ability to take advantage of grandfathered laws. That has to end.” He said beach replenishment is needed but must be designed better. On LBI, Huch said, “dune failures” at replenishment sites propelled tons of loose sand into homes behind the beachfront, causing “far more destruction than was necessary.”

The Army Corps of Engineers estimated that 2.2 million cubic yards of sand washed away from the three replenishment project sites in Surf City, Harvey Cedars and Brant Beach, Corps spokesman Steve Rochette said in January.

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The top story Monday, Dec. 10, was the arrival of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) with three senators from Louisiana, Michigan and Montana, whom he was lobbying for support of the proposed $60 billion disaster aid bill still bogged down in Congress. “Time is of the essence,” Menendez said at an outdoor press conference under rain umbrellas. “Getting this passed amidst the debates about the ‘fiscal cliff,’ with only weeks left in the legislative calendar, will require Houdini-level skill and effort, but we are going to do this.” The senators first stopped at the 2012 engineered beach in Brant Beach. “This was the sacrificial beach, the beach designed to be sacrificed in a storm to protect the dunes, and you can see that it did its job,” said David Leach of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He estimated Sandy ripped away about 100 feet of beachfront there. Next stops were in Beach Haven and Holgate – which didn’t get beach replenishment – to show the senators where Sandy wiped away the dunes and caused far worse destruction.

Seven weeks later, Menendez was stilling howling in Congress: “Ninety-one days we have been languishing waiting for our government to respond to critical issues, life and death situations of fellow Americans … We need to act today. The time has passed,” he exclaimed on the Senate floor Jan. 28 before a $50.5 billion disaster aid bill was finally passed and sent to President Obama.

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“LBI Is Open” declared a Dec. 12 banner headline on a full-page SandPaper ad sponsored by New Jersey, the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, the Jetty company and the W4W Waves for Water disaster relief organization. By now, more than 70 businesses had reopened; some took part on a new website, SheSellsSeashells.biz, with a goal to help local businesses reopen faster. “We are selling gift certificates to LBI businesses that have suffered significant losses. Your $10 shipping and handling includes unique packaging, a treasure from LBI beaches, and a donation to the hurricane relief on LBI,” said the website greeting.

Subbogies Surf City Grill, a family-owned LBI breakfast and lunch restaurant since 1985, was operating, providing hot or cold meals – delivery available – and donating a portion of proceeds to the Red Cross and to local first responders.

In Beach Haven, Buckalew’s Restaurant and Tavern reopened Nov. 30 after a $100,000 loss in equipment, according to owner Jay Cranmer. But in early December, Beach Haven still “look(s) like a ghost town,” he said.

About a week later, the nearby Bagel Shack proclaimed its reopening with the word “HOPE” spelled out in giant, white letters on the pink shop. “The whole idea of the sign is for the people who are feeling down and out, to give them hope – we will come back,” shop owner Sean McCaffrey, a Beach Haven native, said on Dec. 11. With barely anywhere else supplying the need for the south end, McCaffrey also began carrying staples like milk, eggs and produce and selling at cost.

A couple billion television viewers may have been watching the “12/12/12 Concert for Sandy Relief” at Madison Square Garden in New York, yet few were as excited as Holiday Snack Bar owner Glen Warfield. That’s because media personality Jon Stewart, of MTV fame, spoke at the concert of his love for Beach Haven – including “beers at the Ketch and burgers at Holiday Snack Bar.”

“He’s a regular customer, so we were curious if he would say anything,” said Warfield, who has owned the 65-year-old Beach Haven landmark since 1999. Restoring the restaurant from 3 feet of floodwater will take time, he said. “For him to mention LBI like that was just a sign of good things to come, and I’m really looking forward to this summer.”

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While these were positive signs of restoration, there were some voices sounding alarm that now, six weeks since Sandy, there were still many seasonal rental houses yet to be opened to inspect flood damage. Meanwhile, the mold hazard was growing. “Time is of the essence,” said Brian Farias of the Farias Surf and Sport stores. “Before we get into the deep winter freeze and volunteers start to dwindle, people need to take advantage of the help, or call their contractor. They need to get guidance on the next step.”

Also causing consternation at this time were cases of contractor gouging, even criminal fraud, about which the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office had been warning homeowners. In some instances, the issue was more than money; when it came to natural gas utility work, there was also real danger. At one home, a connection was being done for a bargain price of $150, and the contractor went to ignite a gas heater that had been flood damaged. It set off a small explosion that raised the floor and nearly burned the contractor. In another case, a woman posted a lawn sign saying, “I was ripped off,” after a contractor charged her more than $1,200 for an ordinary gas connection. “All she had was a gas range – one connection. Really simple,” said Barnegat Light plumber Sam Wieczorek. “It aggravates me more than you can imagine. I can’t stand seeing people being ripped off.”

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On Dec. 15, Cranmer and the Beach Haven Future group hosted a fundraiser at Buckalew’s. “We want to help the many businesses that have been affected by Hurricane Sandy, and also support the Beach Haven first responders who worked so hard during the storm and after,” said Cranmer. By February, the group was set to forward $27,000 in donations to local need. A second fundraiser held March 23 raised $30,000 more.

Kim England, a former Beach Haven fire chief now living in the Ocean Acres section of Stafford Township, recruited his 1980s buddy Joe Piscopo, of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” fame – and once a summer Beach Haven garbage truck crewmate with England – to headline a Dec. 21 fundraiser for the Beach Haven and Stafford Township fire companies. “The two companies were hit pretty hard (by Sandy), and I called and asked him, ‘Do you think we could do something?’ He jumped right on the front line,” England said. The $20 per ticket event was held at the Manahawkin Holiday Inn. Piscopo also invited participation from actor-comedian Jeff Norris of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”; both actors had worked a Surflight Theatre show together earlier in 2012.

Although the annual Ship Bottom Christmas Parade was a casualty of Sandy, LBI was not going to miss celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve. In The SandPaper’s final issue of 2012, advertisements for New Year’s Eve dinner and party reservations were run by Buckalew’s and Engleside Inn in Beach Haven; Bisque, Greenhouse Café and The Gateway in Ship Bottom; Pinziminio Trattoria in Brighton Beach; Plantation in Harvey Cedars; and Dutchman’s on Cedar Bonnet Island.

A holiday season feature story emerged from the flood restoration work at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Brant Beach. Upon observing an old piano with the curbside trash piles, an artist got an idea. “I said, ‘Don’t just toss it out; maybe I can repurpose it,’” said Janet Nelson. She did. Her “Parsova Piano Project” (inspired by parts of a piano) became holiday ornaments painted by Nelson and her friends from the church. The Sandy souvenir ornaments were a big hit, raising $500 as a Christmas gift for the church’s storm repair bills.

On Dec. 22, more than 100 LBI first responders – police, fire and first aid – gathered in uniform or turnout gear in front of their emergency vehicles for a group photo staged outside St. Francis Parish Church in Brant Beach. A Chris Pfeil photo, with the title “Heroes,” was later produced as a postcard intended for the local public to send to out-of-town family and acquaintances. The caption stated: “They are the fire companies, emergency medical technicians, and rescue crews that risked their lives for others during Superstorm Sandy. And our community salutes them. Support them by planning your summer trip to Long Beach Island.”

At start of the last week of 2012, eight weeks since Sandy, preparations were made to hold a true candlelight Christmas Eve Service at Island Baptist Church in Beach Haven. The church on Third Street is housed in what was in 1885 the town’s first schoolhouse. Later, it was the town’s first movie theatre, and then after vacant 40 years, it drew new life as Island Baptist Church in 1980. Sandy forced the congregation to rip up the first floor, and restoration still needed more time. “We only have one working electrical outlet, and no heat,” remarked Pastor Ray Laird. But it was important to him for the congregation, which had been meeting at the Manahawkin Holiday Inn, to hold a service in Beach Haven, “to show people we are still there.” Anyone was welcome on the 24th; they were advised to dress warm.

Next Week: 2013 Gain With Pain.

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