Thursday, October 23, 2008

Shore town braces for big weekend storm

Shore town braces for big weekend storm
By Jacqueline L. Urgo

Inquirer Staff Writer

STRATHMERE, N.J. - With a powerful storm in the Jersey Shore forecast this weekend, emergency reenforcement of a beach bulkhead will begin today in an area known as the Point, in the northern section of this Cape May County community.
Upper Township officials authorized $300,000 for the project Tuesday, saying they feared that oceanfront homes on the strand from Corson's Inlet State Park east and south to an area between Seaview and Seascape Avenues could suffer heavy damage and flooding from the storm, which could create abnormally high waves on Saturday and Sunday.

Last weekend, a "dry nor'easter" - with no rain but sustained winds of 25 m.p.h. - pushed similar waves onto Strathmere's beaches and caused tidal flooding. Ocean water overlapped bulkheads and flowed into the town's main street, Commonwealth Avenue.

"Seeing the erosion and damage that occurred without even having a real storm worries us as we head into actual storm season," Mayor Richard Palombo said, referring to the period between October and March. "We feel we have a responsibility to homeowners to react to this situation."

The Shore is in for heavy rain and gale-force winds, meteorologist Jim Eberwine of the National Weather Service in Mount Holly said last night. Though not a classic nor'easter, he said, the storm will test beaches.

By Saturday afternoon, waves that normally run two to three feet high in Strathmere will likely be six or seven feet, Eberwine predicted.

At high tide Saturday night and on Sunday, wind-driven waves off the ocean and inlet will combine with heavy rain. That could mean the water "won't have anywhere to go," leading to significant beach erosion and flooding, Eberwine said.

Late Saturday and Sunday in Strathmere, waves crashed over a $250,000 steel seawall privately paid for by beachfront property owners and finished in August. Tons of sand had been trucked in at the town's expense a few weeks ago to bolster the bulkhead.

But much of that gravel and sand washed away, causing some residents to question the steel structure's integrity.

A $3 million to $4 million beach-replenishment project partially funded by the state is scheduled to begin in January. But that may be too late, Palombo said.

The tiny municipality, between Ocean City and Sea Isle City, obtained bonds to cover its portion of that project, about 40 percent of the cost, he said. It also has obtained most of the required property easements from homeowners.

"We're just waiting for the state to begin," Palombo said. "Even though state funding is difficult to come by and there are a lot of towns in need of beach replenishment, we feel our time is now and it's our turn."

The last significant beach replenishment in Strathmere was about seven years ago, he said.

Though $300,000 was allocated for this week's emergency measures, Palombo said yesterday that the bill could run as high as $425,000. Crews are expected to move in heavy equipment today, and tomorrow begin placing large rocks from a Pennsylvania quarry along 1,000 feet at the base of the existing steel seawall, creating a heavy barrier to minimize erosion and flooding.

The reinforcement will be topped with gabion, rock-filled wire-mesh boxes that are joined together to construct walls, Palombo said.

He said the township considered the effort to be little more than a Band-Aid.

"It's certainly a stopgap measure, but something's got to be done," Palombo said.

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