Report predicts high cost of tidal flooding for NJ coast

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

A rising tide lifts all boats but it increasingly inundates neighborhoods — flooding streets in vulnerable areas like Bayview Avenue in Seaside Park where the tidewater flows in and bubbles up from storm drains. People routinely park their cars up the side streets.

“We’re getting more tide here than we’ve ever had before. When I was growing up here, we never had tide,” said Peter Sayia.

Sayia’s the third generation to live in the house his grandfather built.

“Whenever there’s a high tide or a big wind-pushed tide, the water comes in through the pipe and up here and floods the whole road because this is a lower area. But those sewer drains don’t work,” he said.

“We’ve known for a long time that sea level rise will be impacting the New Jersey coast. It’s kind of one of the hardest hit states on Eastern Seaboard,” said Kristina Dahl, senior climate scientist with The Union of Concerned Scientists.

The group has compiled a new map that shows that shore towns like Seaside Park will occupy areas of highest risk for chronic tidal flooding along the Jersey shoreline by 2045. It will impact some 79,000 people and thousands of homes.

“In the next 30 years or so, there are over 60,000 homes in New Jersey that are at risk of what we call ‘chronic inundation,’ which is flooding that happens on average every other week,” said Dahl.

By the numbers, that means more than 7,000 homes in Ocean City, or 39 percent of its current housing. In Atlantic City, that’s more than 4,000 homes, or 40 percent. Thirty-six percent of homes in Long Beach. Twenty-nine percent in North Wildwood. More than 3,600 homes in Toms River, where the mayor forecasts an eroded tax base.

“We experience now some flooding, high tide, full moon, on streets that are low along the bay side,” said Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher. “If you keep getting floods over there, and higher water, eventually people can’t live there because of the conditions, and that’s a substantial tax base.”

A combined $390 million in local property taxes statewide, funding for schools and services, wiped off the books, the report says. Twenty-seven billion dollars worth of problematic real estate.

“Look at the plight of the people who own property there. If they can’t live there and want to sell, nobody’s going to buy,” Kelaher said.

“We just don’t put stuff on the bottom shelves of things, and we assume if it happens, it happens,” said Seaside Park homeowner Tom Joseph.

Joseph just bought a bayside house in Seaside Park. People know about rising sea levels and local flooding. They’re still moving to the coast.

“We’re here on the bay. The view is beautiful. There are a lot of nice people here, so it’s going to take quite a bit before we’re going to feel like it’s a problem,” Joseph said.

“Certainly we want to let people know what they’re buying. We want to give them the information so they can make an informed decision. But since Sandy, they’ve invested a lot in the infrastructure,” said realtor Laurie Enoch.

Since Sandy, billions in federal tax dollars have funded the construction of massive retaining walls and miles of bulkheads, widened beaches on barrier islands,and rebuilt and elevated homes all along the coast. They’re buying time. In Seaside Park, a little plaque marks Sandy’s high water mark inside the Wilson home where the family patriarch, Bill Wilson, has weathered a lifetime of storms. He says it’s the ticking tide clock that will tell his children when it’s time to move, maybe in 50 years.

“It’s an awful lot of do0llars and cents and everything else, but in the long future that would be the only way. You would wind up abandoning a lot of this area,” Wilson said. “I mean, it’s something you hate to see.”

For now, residents who live here say they want to stay, and they know it’ll take taxpayer dollars to help beat the rising tidewaters.

Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim, III.