Back-to-back storms test Jersey Shore flood protections

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 Last month's blizzard left a gaping hole in this West Wildwood bulkhead. The structures and dunes damaged during last month's storm leave Shore towns vulnerable. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Last month's blizzard left a gaping hole in this West Wildwood bulkhead. The structures and dunes damaged during last month's storm leave Shore towns vulnerable. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Not three weeks after Winter Storm Jonas severely flooded parts of the South Jersey Shore, another storm is sending water over, around, and through the bulkheads and dunes meant to protect coastal towns from flooding.

In some areas, the back-to-back storms are forcing local officials to come up with temporary fixes or put up with damaged infrastructure until a longer-term solution can be rolled out.

“Well, they’re working about as best as we thought they would. They’re not waterproof,” said West Wildwood Administrator Chris Ridings, of the concrete blocks used to plug up a hole Jonas punched in the town’s bulkhead.

“You’re still going to get water seepage, but, if nothing else, at least it stops the wave action until the repairs can be made,” he said.

Around 2 feet of water flooded West Wildwood this week, ahead of an approaching storm that could drop up to 8 inches of snow on parts of New Jersey.

The fact that the concrete blocks are there at all, said Ridings, is thanks to officials at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, who let West Wildwood forgo an otherwise lengthy permitting process before starting to temporarily repair the damaged bulkhead.

“They’ve worked with us to say, ‘Go ahead and make the bulkhead replacement and just make the application as you go through the process,'” Ridings said. “And that, frankly, speeds it up by months.”

A spokesman for the DEP said some coastal towns, such as North Wildwood, have added sand to beaches where Jonas eroded significant parts of protective dunes.

But others have not been able to make significant repairs yet. Beachfront sand dunes in Stone Harbor that were seriously damaged during Jonas remain in poor shape.

“Our beaches got totally, totally decimated. [The dunes] protected homes. There wasn’t one bit of damage along the oceanfront — other than the sand,” said Mayor Suzanne Walters.

“They’re holding up. They’re not at their best, definitely, but they’re holding up.”

Walters said Stone Harbor is in discussions with DEP over carrying out a large-scale beach replenishment project before summer.

But according to Walters, most of the flooding that has been streaming into Stone Harbor this week has been coming not from the ocean, but from the back bay, where a protective 7.5-foot bulkhead was left unharmed by Jonas.

“I don’t know the answer to what you can do to stop the bay water from coming in,” said Walters. “I don’t know if we need to go to 10 feet. I don’t know what the answer is.”

That leaves Walters — and many others up and down the Jersey Shore who are trying to fix damaged fortifications — with the even tougher problem of fixing working flood-protection measures that are no longer doing their job.

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