New Jersey Future Warns Tuckerton and Little Egg Residents of Future Flooding

Apr 17, 2015
Photo by: Pat Johnson New Jersey Future planner Leah Yasenchak spins a wheel she made to engage the crowd in a game of chance about the predictability of storms.

Due to sea level rise, 31 percent of Little Egg Harbor and 55 percent of Tuckerton will be inundated during nuisance high tides in 35 years.

This prediction, based on Rutgers research, was included in a presentation April 13 by New Jersey Future, a nonprofit dedicated to smart growth that has been working with Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor on their flood and storm resiliency planning since Superstorm Sandy ravaged the coastline.

“Rutgers did a mapping of sea level rise in 2050, and this map shows the middle rise at 1 foot and almost 5 inches higher. If that comes true then during nuisance high tides 31 percent of the township will be inundated. That’s 1,032 lots and 9,000 acres. In Tuckerton, 620 parcels will be inundated, about 28 percent of the town’s lots, 55 percent of the town and 30 percent of the total assessed value. Projections are based on if nothing changes from what exists today,” David Kutner, a recovery planning manager with the group, told about 100 local residents, most victims of Sandy. He illustrated this with a map showing a red blotch where land was covered with water.

The presentation, “Planning for Our Coastal Future,” was called so New Jersey Future could discuss its work on environmental issues facing both communities in the not-too-distant future.

After Sandy, New Jersey Future was approached by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Merck Foundation and provided with funding for Kutner and three additional planners.

“They thought the biggest gap (for Sandy-impacted communities) was the lack of local capacity to cope with those types of planning problems nor did they have sufficient staff to deal with issues that arose after Sandy. They needed technical assistance to look for grants and to plan and manage their recovery process,” said Kutner.

New Jersey Future selected six communities – two in Monmouth, two in Ocean and two in Cumberland counties –and was able to procure $8 million in grants for the six. LEH and Tuckerton received $2.31 million in grants to do shore resiliency restoration from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Kutner said soon after Sandy, the local emphasis was on rebuilding as fast as possible. “In reality all communities have to look forward to more flooding events. In the last 12 years there have been more than 11 federally declared emergencies for flood-related events in New Jersey.”

In a survey conducted at the presentation, few audience members were native to the area. Most had moved from somewhere else. Three percent were born in Little Egg and 6 percent were Tuckertonians. Eighty-five percent of the participants had to repair their homes after Sandy. Only eight percent had considered walking away from their homes, but 42 percent had known someone who had.

Thirty-seven percent said they had elevated their homes before Sandy hit. Eleven percent said the elevation was completed after Sandy, 8 percent are in the process of elevating their homes, 11 percent must raise their homes but haven’t started yet and 17 percent were not told to elevate.

Opinions were almost split down the middle on whether they would move if another Sandy-like storm were to occur.

Kutner was pleased that 66 percent of the audience believe climate change and sea level rise are occurring and want to be prepared.

Sixty-one percent said flooding is a frequent occurrence in their neighborhoods, not just during extreme storm events, and that jives with what Kutner had in his report.

Leah Yasenchak, a planner and grants writer for NJ Future, had developed a game for the audience as a way to help everyone visualize the probability of a 1 percent storm (like Sandy) in any given year. She made a roulette wheel with one to 100 numbers printed around the radius. “I’m a parent and a Girl Scout leader, so I thought to make this,” she said. Everyone in the audience had been given a number when they walked in.

Anyone whose number came up got a rubber ducky.

For the first two spins, no one had the numbers and that meant there was no devastating storm for two years. Then on the third spin, someone had the number and was given a rubber ducky. The next spin yielded another rubber ducky. “Each year we have the same chance of a 1 percent storm occurring in any given year,” said Yasenchak, “And yes, you can have devastating storms back to back.”

Then Kutner asked, “What’s the implication of a 1 percent storm on top of the 2050 sea level rise?” He answered, “The number of plots of land inundated increases four-fold. In Little Egg, that’s 32 percent of the municipality; in Tuckerton, that’s 66 percent.”

In a map illustrating this, the red blotch had seeped into all almost areas of the municipalities south of Route 9 and in some places inundated Route 9.

“This is not a prediction; that’s what the analysis says. If conditions remain the same we all have some serious issues to wrestle with,” said Kutner. “But we have the time now to effectively deal with it.

“Sea levels are rising gradually, but our marshes that protect the shore can’t tolerate constant inundation or being overtopped with water; they eventually will become open water. The protection they give now won’t happen in the future.”

One of the ways to keep ahead of sea level rise is to spread thin layers of sediment over the marsh in a process called “thin layer deposition.” NJ Future recently was able to procure a $2.13 million National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant for Tuckerton and Little Egg to restore several acres of marsh, some off Great Bay Boulevard and others in Tuckerton Beach though the exact parcels have not been chosen yet.

The Barnegat Bay Partnership will conduct monitoring projects in the area and the Edwin B. Forsythe Refuge has $15 million to do its own marsh replenishment projects with sea level monitoring devices.

Yasenchak said the experiment will be closely monitored and would include planting marsh grasses to discourage invasive phragmite reeds from growing. “We are partnering with youth corps, teens under supervision, to plant the areas we are addressing,” she said.

“We were also planning to use dredge materials to replenish a beach in Tuckerton Beach that is severely eroded, but when we are testing the bottom of the lagoons, we are finding organic sediment (mud) that’s great for the shoreline but not so much a beach.“

Yasenchak agreed with a member of the public that taking dredged material from lagoons couldn’t just be put anywhere. “There is significant permitting involved,” she said. “However, Sandy created pressure to be more accepting of some of these solutions.”

Iowa Court in Little Egg Harbor might be a candidate for a living shoreline project, she added, whereby whelks or clamshells are bundled in wire cages and used to buffer waves and then are backfilled with sediment and planted with marsh grass.

New Jersey Future will also help the two communities with their national flood insurance community ranking system that can save homeowners on flood insurance depending on a point system that is tied to different steps a town might take to protect the community from flooding.

Two more public meetings of New Jersey Future’s “Planning for Our Coastal Future” are scheduled for Tuesday, May 12, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 20, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Little Egg Harbor Community Center.

— Pat Johnson




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