Sandy - A Reckoning

LBI Is Alive!

The Beachcomber
By NEAL J. ROBERTS | Aug 25, 2013
Photo by: Ryan Morrill TRUE, TRUE: Someone’s spare piece of storm-shield plywood was turned into this sign placed outside Fantasy Island Amusement Park in November 2012; by President’s Day weekend in February 2013, the park’s arcade reopened for the first time since Sandy.

The Superstorm Sandy disaster and recovery on Long Beach Island, as was chronicled for seven months by the staff of The SandPaper. Part 9.


New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno made another publicity trip to the Island on April 4, stopping first at Viking Village in Barnegat Light and then meeting the press at Buckalew’s in Beach Haven. “I can see that Long Beach Island is back in business,” she said, also noting that the state will spend $25 million this season advertising the “Jersey Shore Is Open for Business” campaign, especially to residents in the Pennsylvania and New York media markets. “I’m confident we’re going to have a fine summer season,” she said.

In April, a $25,000 grant from Long Beach Township was put to work with another $25,000 raised by Island businesses for a TV commercial titled “LBI Is Alive 2013” ( Prompted by Mayor Joseph Mancini and organized by LBI Realty Group associate Kevin Bergin, the project was carried out by two Loveladies homeowners, Bravo Media Inc. executive Tim Donovan and media marketer Ann Carletta. The 30-second spot featured a fast-paced collage of LBI landmarks and sound-bytes from five Island mayors and some business owners. It was ready to air in mid-April on New York metro area cable television stations. Meanwhile, it grew more apparent that part of the local business community had lost faith in the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, which some had criticized for not doing enough post-Sandy media promotion. “We asked them for [$25,000] funding and they refused us,” Mancini claimed at the April 5 township commission meeting. Later, he said he was anticipating starting “a new chamber very shortly.” The reference was to a proposed Long Beach Island Chamber of Commerce under the leadership of the Island’s six mayors. On April 11, the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce sounded a conciliatory note: “The new organization, which has six mayors or municipal reps serving as part of the board, will be needed to change the infrastructure for continued business success,” stated a press release endorsing the new business lobby.

But Surf City Mayor Leonard Connors was troubled by what appeared to be the Island business community cutting ties with a broader entity that includes the mainland, particularly Stafford Township. “Now there’s a suggestion that we drop them?” Connors asked incredulously. “It’s probably a good idea in one respect, but a bad idea in the timing of it. Why now? These are trying times. We’ve had a major storm come through the area, and it’s hurt people not only on the Island, but on the mainland.”

During Connors’ 50 years as Surf City mayor – later an Ocean County freeholder and then a state senator for two decades – the original 1914 Long Beach Island Board of Trade evolved first into the Long Beach Island Chamber of Commerce, and then later became the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce more than 20 years ago to embrace the coinciding interests of the Island and mainland. “This is not to compete with the existing chamber,” Mancini remarked later, as the new chamber set an initial meeting date: “We’re not trying to exclude anyone. We feel we need a separate entity to help LBI flourish.” He said the new chamber, to be comprised entirely by businesses with an LBI address, or that conduct most of their business on the Island, would use 90 percent of its raised funding to promote the Island. It would not spend money to maintain an office.

Murphy’s Market in Beach Haven announced in late March that its flood restoration would finally be complete by May 15. After three feet of floodwater “destroyed everything on the sales floor,” management took that opportunity to modernize the entire store, with emphasis on “green” technology for recycling and energy conservation. John Wachter, general manager of the family-owned Murphy’s chain that includes four New Jersey supermarkets, is also on the year-old Beach Haven Future business lobby, which raised $57,000 for Sandy relief funding since December. “The businesses in Beach Haven are going to be back better than ever because they will be totally remodeled,” he said. About 25 local businesses had been assisted by Beach Haven Future, according to Lisa Mack, manager of Buckalew’s Restaurant and Tavern, where the fundraising is headquartered. “We are still actively seeking sponsorship and donations and will continue to do so as long as needed,” Mack said.

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A new organization named the Ship Bottom Community Action Group formed in March to find a better means to persuade the last 21 of 64 oceanfront property owners to sign beachfill work easements, which after Sandy had become a bitterly contentious issue – and for which a May 1 deadline was looming for federal government selection of new beachfill projects. “We don’t want to pit homeowner against homeowner,” Christine Rooney said on behalf of the group. Alliance for a Living Ocean, headquartered in Ship Bottom, was also asked to help mediate the issue. Chris Huch, ALO executive director, also remarked in a an interview with The SandPaper, that the group will lobby for the Army Corps of Engineers to revise how it does beachfill work – namely, to use the dredged sand to build a new dune line seaward of the existing dunes, and not bury the existing dune. “Ship Bottom likely has the strongest dune system on the Island, next to Barnegat Light… Building the replenished dune on top of our current dune may result in the death of the plants and their root structure on the current dune, reducing the stability of the dune system,” he said. Huch contends that result occurred in Harvey Cedars and Brant Beach because the Army Corps allowed existing dunes to be buried with the dredged sand during those projects.

With less than a month to go before the Army Corps of Engineers May 1 deadline to proceed with contracting this year’s beachfill projects, Island officials fervently pursued securing unsigned oceanfront property easements – the key obstacle to new shorefront protection work on LBI. Long Beach Township Mayor Mancini said only 21 holdouts stood in the way of a contiguous project extending between Beach Haven and Ship Bottom. On the north end, there were 15 holdouts in North Beach and 32 in Loveladies. Mancini termed the Loveladies holdouts a lost cause: “Obviously, they really don’t care about beach replenishing up there… you can’t help those who don’t want to be helped.” But Charlie Farrell, Loveladies Property Owners Association president, said, “We’re going to continue to work on this. We’re not giving up.” Ship Bottom’s number of holdouts dropped down to 17.

The issue got another push from state Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin. “The governor has made it crystal clear we want those easements, we need those easements, and we will get those easements. The Army Corps of Engineers wants to build a coastal protection system, and they can’t leave any gaps. We have to have all the properties,” Martin said at an April 9 press conference. He said $4.5 billion of the Sandy relief bill from Congress is set aside for enhanced shore protection, with about $1 billion earmarked for New Jersey.

At the same press conference, Martin announced New Jersey has received $250 million to buy flood-ravaged home sites from owners who don’t want to, or can’t, rebuild. The state Blue Acres acquisition program may have enough to make 1,000 purchases, Martin said; more than that number have already called the state hoping to sell. “We’ll be targeting neighborhoods or streets, rather than buying one house here and there,” he said.

Martin also remarked that “the vast majority of the waterways are free and clear of debris and are ready for boating.” He declared the Intracoastal Waterway and most of Barnegat Bay clear for use, although some local spots in Barnegat Bay and Little Egg Harbor may remained closed while debris removal continues through the summer. Boaters were asked to call 877-WARNDEP to report submerged water hazards they discover.

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Beach Haven Borough Manager Richard Crane said Beach Haven’s storm cleanup cost, in terms of sand and debris removal, was near $2 million. He said he expected FEMA to cover 75 percent, and town insurance another part. But as of  April 8, the town “hasn’t seen any of that money yet.” To cover the delay, the borough commission applied for a $1.8 million, five-year deferred loan from the U.S. Department of Community Affairs. The disaster relief loan would also help close an anticipated revenue shortfall from beach badge sales, boat ramp fees and other sources impacted by Sandy.

Also on April 8, FEMA released a disaster assistance report on “Meteorological Event Sandy.” In New Jersey, the hardest hit state on the East Coast, $3.2 billion had been paid out in flood insurance, closing 95 percent of the 73,820 claims. (About 6,300 claims were deemed ineligible for payment.) Settlement was still pending for 3,718 claims, for one technicality or another. In addition, FEMA had disbursed $327.5 million for housing assistance and $52.3 million in other storm relief to individual households. Relief aid for municipalities and nonprofit organizations topped $241 million.

Daniel Macone, the 2013 president of the Holgate Taxpayers Association, reported another matter: “the numerous sightseers flocking to Holgate and the chaos they were causing residents.” The township commission responded by returning the roadside message board saying entry to Holgate was closed except to residents and contractors. Macone cited that as an example “there is power in numbers” and why the taxpayers association needs full membership to effectively lobby issues as they arise.

Engleside Inn owners were honored by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in recognition of the Beach Haven motel’s role in housing and feeding first responders and displaced residents during and after Sandy. “They were amazingly able to provide for so many people in need. Not just a place to rest their head but a place to gather and laugh for a moment during this trying time,” said a letter from Christie, sent with a U.S. flag that once flew at the World Trade Center site. Engleside Inn partners John Hillman, Susan Riddle, Peter Hillman and Linda Hillman received the presentation from the governor’s representative on April 10.

Also on the business front by mid-April, Blue Claw Seafood Market in Surf City and Blue Water Café in Haven Beach were open weekends.

Long Beach Township bought a full-page ad seeking sponsors and participants for “LBI Thank You Fest,” a June 14-16 Island-wide event to raise support for first responders, notably the Island’s volunteer firefighters and first aid squad members who suffered substantial loss from Sandy. Six months later, some were still desperate for affordable shelter. “Housing and rooms needed: a house, a hotel room, a B&B. If you can sleep someone, we need you,” said the township (609-361-6634) and

Matt Letts, chief of the 130-year-old Beach Haven Volunteer Fire Co., spoke passionately about that issue in an April 17 feature story. “We found places [on LBI] that are year ’round but they’re crazy expensive,” said Letts, speaking on behalf of himself and other volunteers displaced from their homes. Rental units that were typically $1,200 a month are now $1,800 a month, he said. “I wouldn’t like to think that people are price gouging around here, but read between the lines… What they don’t understand is we’re a 100 percent volunteer fire department. Without volunteers, you’re not going to get your free fire protection that you’ve been getting for 130 years.”

The Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences announced it had raised $10,000 at its April 13 “Rock For Sandy” fundraiser, selling 325 tickets for the concert held in the limited space of the art gallery. Meanwhile, two more fundraisers to benefit storm victims were scheduled for the same venue in Loveladies: a 1980s theme Retro Prom Night on April 27 and a widely-sponsored “Love LBI M2 – Hope, Harmony, Charity” ( concert on May 11, at which LBI filmmaker David Kaltenbach would premiere his “Hurricane Sandy.” About 300 people bought tickets and auction items at “Love LBI M2,” raising $11,000 for four charities: St. Francis Community Center, St. Mary’s Parish, Jersey Surf and Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group.

On April 15, Congressman Frank LoBiondo announced he has introduced an amendment to delay the steep cost increases required by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. For years, the National Flood Insurance Program had undercharged policyholders by more than 40 percent, and premiums never kept pace with claims; Hurricane Katrina literally emptied the bank account in 2005. To bolster the debt-ridden NFIP – $17 billion in the red, and authorized by Congress on Jan. 4 to raise its debt ceiling to $30.4 billion from the U.S. Treasury –  the reform act requires four annual, 25 percent increases on policy premiums, October 2013 to October 2016, for all businesses, second or vacation homes, properties on which flood insurance had lapsed, and any property – including a primary home – that requires flood damage repairs exceeding 50 percent of the pre-claim property value. LoBiondo’s amendment would spread that total 100 percent cost increase over eight years, at 12.5 percent a year. “With New Jersey’s ongoing struggles to rebuild and an unsteady national economy, my legislation is a common-sense solution to easing in full-risk coverage without completely decimating existing homeowners and commercial properties in coastal communities nationwide.” On May 24, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced his own bill to the U.S. Senate – titled the “Saving Homeowners from Onerous Rate Escalation (SHORE) Act,” which calls for flood insurance subsidies to be phased out over 10 years, not four years.

Meanwhile on May 24, Gov. Christie introduced two disaster aid appropriations for New Jersey: the Homeowner Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program, which offers grants – not loans – up to $150,000 for primary homes of owners with incomes under $250,000; and the Homeowner Resettlement Program, which offers a $10,000 bonus to homeowners who restore their existing primary home, or move to a new permanent (three years) home within their declared disaster area county. Ocean County is among nine Sandy disaster counties in New Jersey. The initial application period for both programs was May 24 to June 30; owners of Sandy-damaged vacation homes are not eligible. Christie made an unannounced stop at Scojo’s Restaurant in Surf City on May 25 as part of his holiday weekend tour of shore communities launching their peak seasons.

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On the beach at Pearl Street, Beach Haven’s contractor began sinking piling for a new pavilion. The town earlier awarded a $290,000 contract to Recon Construction to replace the landmark pavilions that Sandy tore away from Pearl Street and Fifth Street. Beach Haven summer resident John Weber was shocked to see the pilings “in the middle of the beach,” rather than where  the original pavilion was. “I can understand building the structure higher, but certainly not closer to the ocean,” he wrote to The SandPaper. Weber wasn’t buying the reasoning put forth by Borough Manager Richard Crane, who was quoted as saying the rebuilt pavilions will be closer to the ocean because of how an anticipated federal beachfill project will contour the dunes. “Using the excuse of the beachfill project,” Weber wrote, “is complete hubris and reflects a 1950s-style of thinking… I would hope everyone now embraces these two stark realities: 1) that beachfills wash away and 2) the sea level is rising and oceanfront structures will be destroyed by future storms, beach replenishment or not. These two thoughts are scary enough, but the idea that town officials don’t subscribe to them, and that they think it is OK to build even closer to the ocean in this day and age is downright frightening.”

Next Week: Soaring Into Summer.

Read the series at under the Columns tab.



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