Save Holgate Marsh for Greater Good

Jun 07, 2017

To the Editor:

The ongoing battle over the patch of marsh that saved a community in Holgate during Superstorm Sandy seems to have been settled with the proposed erecting of new houses by a local developer. Intent on cashing in on the dumbness of the new blood seeking a life on the south end, there seems to be no sense of vitality in discussing just how strategic a role the marsh played during the storm.

Any rational person who has spent a life on the Island, or understands the ocean, or who isn’t just plain ignorant, knows how important maintaining the marshes and wetlands is in saving the greater island during times of trouble. Holgate, located on the southern end of Long Beach Island, was devastated by Sandy’s wrath. The ocean met the bay in several areas, and sand from the beaches moved across Bay Avenue into the homes of many local residents.

Along the main strip heading south lay a visible exception to overdevelopment: a small patch of marsh that drained tidal waters into a lagoon on the bay. Sailboats and kayaks are moored in its waters while dogs enjoy a romp, chasing after finicky ducks on the pond. But what the patch of wetlands did during the storm was allow the ocean to drain safely into its marsh and push sand to fill in the area rather than filling the neighboring streets and homes. Indeed, this was natural engineering working at its finest.

It became a story of success in Holgate following the storm, one that was visible to everyone whose houses weren’t flooded. The Army Corps of Engineers noted its significance following their surveying of the destruction. What was and remains apparent to everyone surrounding the block of Webster, Pennsylvania and Susan avenues has now been foolishly placed in the hands of someone who knows and cares little about the impact the marsh has on the existing homes. He sees a patch of sand sitting idle and empty, not a marsh awaiting the next storm. Will he be the one to inform his clients of its importance and how vulnerable this area is to future storms? Will the township?

Living on a barrier island or a shifting sandbar requires a certain amount of luck to hold. It is a sunny day until it isn’t. The Island has been devastated by countless storms, clippers and nor’easters over the centuries, and yet people continue to live here. We are a stubborn bunch. We take our cue from the great Atlantic, whose stubbornness remains majestic until her fury is unleashed. Ignorance is bliss and our resolve is haunted by memories that remain short, rash and constantly in the now.

We do not plan for the future based on the past because that would require actual ingenuity and time that no developer or township council member is capable of providing. They are simply about the dollars in the now, and we remain anchored by their perceived guidance of our best interests. Despite what these leaders and developers in the community claim, the best interests of the Island require us to put ourselves second.

The Island needs less housing and more natural habitat. For one, less housing will almost certainly raise real estate prices over time as lot space and open views remain a buyer’s main desire for purchasing property in a beach community. More people who buy here are staying here in the off-season. Businesses are and can boom in the winter months, providing the right planning and foresight by the community.

Second, the island lives by having ways to handle the ocean. It is a sandbar after all. Water moves sand. There is very little humans can do to stop nature from being nature. Having more sand on the beaches actually intensifies erosion because water is meant to push sand back, not meet it to a halt. The ocean will continue to rip dunes and beaches away like a swiping hand. In fact, the more we allow dredging offshore, the more we impair the natural slope of the continental shelf, creating a steeper drop that actually creates higher storm surge when it hits the shallows offshore.

It is simple marine geology that even I can understand from reading a school textbook, but that is often overlooked because developers do not want communities educated. They would prefer we continue giving them our money. We cannot expect to stop the ocean, but we can learn to work with it. The best and cheapest way is by keeping natural habitats intact. The more wetlands and marshes we allow to remain on the Island, the better our chances at giving the ocean a place to go when it comes through. Remember, the water has to go somewhere. Better in the marshes than in our living rooms, I would think.

For the dunes that we have, it is encouraging to see vegetation blooming in areas that had been previously in dispute. It is also encouraging to see more homes on pilings. The natural beauty of the Island continues to be what inspires us. After all, the tranquil escape of living by the sea is what lures us to live here. But doing so requires knowledge and a hardy sense of understanding.

We must understand what works and what doesn’t. We cannot allow the weaker impulses of avoidance and acceptance to succumb to more development in areas that are vital to maintaining the health of the community. If we continue to allow further development that removes natural barriers and defenses from the ocean, we will become ever more vulnerable to encroaching tidal storms.

Make no mistake: Whatever your beliefs are, the ocean is rising. It has been doing so since the last ice age, and it will not stop tomorrow. And we cannot blame the weather for such acts of communal destruction. We will have ourselves to blame because of our own ignorance, and for allowing shortsighted, money-grabbing schemers to be the voices for us all. We must stand together as a community if we are to have one we can call home in the coming years.

Adam E. Zielinski





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