An SUV drives through a flooded street in Normandy Beach, a community straddling the Brick and Toms River border on Barnegat Peninsula. Due to sea level rise, officials say the Jersey Shore has a growing problem with so-called nuisance flooding at high tide, which is not as damaging as a storm surge but is much more frequent and can close roads and cause other problems.Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
By Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Rising sea level has made flooding increasingly common on the barrier peninsula separating Barnegat Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, where there doesn’t even have to be a storm surge for high tides to close roads and inundate neighborhoods.
Hundreds of residents of the Barnegat Peninsula community of Normandy Beach -- which straddles the Brick and Toms River border -- have banded together to call for measures to combat an increase in so-called “nuisance flooding,” which researchers say has resulted from an accelerated rise in sea level linked to climate change.
“We have noticed, certainly, the flooding is getting worse,” said John Armstrong, a member of the Normandy Beach Improvement Association, who owns a house on Normandy Drive in Brick. “The flooding used to occur once or twice a year. Now, it’s occurring on a monthly basis.”
Armstrong said he and many of the group’s other 300 members will attend Tuesday night’s Brick Township Council meeting to continue pressing for anti-flooding measures including raising the elevation of streets, updating drainage systems, constructing pumping stations, or a combination of those or other technologies.
Local, county and state officials have acknowledged the problem, and are taking steps to address the area’s growing vulnerability to nuisance flooding, as well as to the more frequent and severe storms that researchers say will accompany rising sea levels.
In Toms River, which contains the southern part of Normandy Beach, the elevation of several streets have already been raised in conjunction with drainage improvements, partially funded by the state Department of Environmental Protection. And in Brick, municipal officials have met with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and are seeking proposals for flood-resiliency measures from experts.
“We’re not looking at it as a political issue,” said Joanne Bergin, Brick’s township administrator, acknowledging that climate change has been a partisan issue on a nation level, if not locally, where the problem is all too immediate. “We’re looking at it in real-time, with what people are living with.”
The Ocean County engineer, John Earnst, said the increasing frequency of nuisance flooding goes beyond Normandy Beach. Earnst said the county had commissioned Stockton University to collect flood data and draft a report that the county could use to address the issue.
“We’re waiting for those results,” Earnst said Tuesday. “We are getting complaints throughout the county, whether it’s on the mainland or the barrier island, primarily as a result of the tide.”
Complaints about the increased incidence of flooding is consistent with findings contained in a November 2019 Rutgers University report that sea level rose 17.6 inches along the Jersey Shore between 1911 and 2019, including an 8.2-inch rise since 1979. And, the report said, sea level rise is expected to accelerate in the future.
“The number of days that New Jersey residents have experienced high-tide floods in the absence of an associated storm has increased in recent years,” the report states.
The report cited the example of Atlantic City, which during the 1950s averaged fewer than one high-tide flood per year, compared with an average of 8 a year from 2007 to 2016.
New Jersey’s rate of sea level rise is twice the global average, though not because of any especially high level of greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, it’s thanks to a phenomenon known as “glacial isostatic adjustment,” that has caused mid-Atlantic states to sink since the last ice age.
Toms River’s township engineer, Bob Chankalian, said raising the elevation of the streets has been the most effective means of combatting nuisance flooding, combined with an increase in the number of storm drains to channel away water that runs off the newly elevated street.
A street in Toms River inundated by tidal flooding, also known as nuisance flooding, which has become increasingly common as sea level rises.Toms River Township
Under an initiative that began about five years ago targeting streets that are less than three feet above sea level, Chankalian said half a dozen streets have been raised by Toms River so far, including stretches of Harbor Lane, Harbor Court and Canal Lanes.
He said streets are never raised above the level of a home, which would send runoff onto doorsteps and into foundations. And when regrading of a front yard or construction of a new driveway is required, the township pays for it, he said.
“It’s been working very well,” Chankalian said, adding that he uses testimonials from homeowners who have been through the process in presentations intended to allay concerns of those looking ahead to it.
Chankalian said the DEP has provided grant money to finance 25-30% of each street elevation project’s cost. In Brick, Mayor John Ducey has joined Bergin and the township engineer, Melissa Commins, in meeting with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to discuss the flooding situation and the possibility of FEMA funding for resiliency measures.
And while FEMA is potentially a source of large-scale funding, the agency requires local officials to demonstrate that its aid would be a sound financial investment for the agency, specifically that the money FEMA would save from a reduced number of flood benefits claims would offset the dollar amount of aid for resiliency projects.
Bergin noted that the township had applied for roadway raising funds in the past but was rejected due to an insufficient cost-benefit analysis.
Apart from the nuisance flooding issue, another federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is devising a large-scale, long-term project in the wake of Hurricane Sandy that’s intended to minimize the impact of storm surges.
In the near-term, Ducey said Brick is now awaiting a proposal for a flood control plan from ACT Engineers, a Robbinsville firm that has already done coastal surveying work for the township.
In addition, Ducey added, the township council has authorized spending $200,000 this year on “flapper valves” that can be installed in the existing storm drain system, allowing floodwater to run off streets and out into the bay or ocean while keeping the water from flowing back in.
Whatever measures the township takes, Ducey acknowledged that they may be only temporary.
The November report included projections that sea level on the Jersey Shore will rise by more than a foot above its 2,000 mark by the year 2030. Beyond that, depending on greenhouse gas emissions, the sea level rise will be as much as 2.1 feet by 2050, the report said. By 2100, according to the report, the sea could be 6.3 feet higher, which would all but submerge Barnegat Peninsula.
“That’s something that people have to be concerned about,” Ducey said. “For sure.”
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