GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Help may be coming for areas plagued by back-bay flooding, but not fast enough for frustrated homeowners.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is partnering with the state on a three-year, $3 million study of back-bay flooding and how to prevent it, but homeowners said officials should move faster to build protections against rising waters.
About 100 people showed up Thursday evening at Stockton University for a meeting billed as a chance to learn about the study by the Army Corps and state Department of Environmental Protection and give input on problem areas.
People in attendance were told that it will be at least three years before any projects can begin, a time frame that frustrated many of them.
“So if I’m asked by the residents of Toms River and Ortley Beach how long it will be until projects are complete to protect their property, what do I tell them?” asked Paul Jeffrey, president of the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association in Ocean County.
The area was one of many along the New Jersey coast hard hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“This is not one large project. I can’t tell you a definite date on construction, but not in the next year or two or three,” said J.B. Smith, Army Corps project manager for the study. “I’m not sure what else to say than that.”
The Army Corps is collecting information about where the worst flooding occurs, and it will take about three years to determine the best approaches to fixing problems, he said.
State DEP Bureau of Coastal Engineering Manager Bill Dixon said his agency is a nonfederal sponsor of the study and will pay half of its costs, or about $1.5 million.
Smith said all types of solutions will be examined, including systemwide changes in government policy and programs; structural solutions such as storm surge barriers, bulkheads and levees; nonstructural flood warning systems and land acquisition; and natural features such as living shorelines.
Some in the audience said the Army Corps didn’t provide enough information about its approach to conducting the study and how information will be collected and weighed, other than to encourage participants to fill out “problem identification” sheets.
A Long Beach Island resident said he often deals with nuisance flooding on Long Beach Boulevard, even though he has bulkheads on two sides of his property. The water rarely breaches the bulkheads, he said, but instead comes up through stormwater drains.
“We all recognize nuisance flooding is more of a problem,” said Smith, adding that consistent bulkhead heights, storm drains with flap-gate valves and better pump stations can help.
Jeffrey said state and federal officials should have acted sooner to get information about best practices out to homeowners as they made decisions on rebuilding.
He said people in his area have put up bulkheads of varying heights, while a standardized height would be better for all.
Fred Akers, of Buena Vista Township and the Great Egg Harbor River Watershed Association, said he is concerned about flooding along the river in the Mays Landing area.
“I have looked at flood studies, and they do not model for concurrent flooding from rivers and tidal areas where they meet,” Akers said.
“I do believe typically FEMA does look at both coastal and riverine flooding,” said Smith, “but that is somewhat separate from this study. This is a coastal study.”
After the meeting, he clarified that the study area goes well up the Great Egg Harbor River, as well as the Mullica and others.
Little Egg Harbor Township Environmental Commission member Robin Burr asked if the study will take into account other projects being done by planning agencies such as New Jersey Future, which is recommending changes to coastal building regulations in the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act.
Dixon said the DEP is partnering with many of the other efforts and studies being done, including with NJ Future, but that this study is more about projects that can be implemented than policy recommendations.
The study is not tied to any funding for undertaking solutions that may be identified, Smith said.
“But you have to look at the costs against the benefits,” he said after the meeting.
Storm surge barriers like flood gates across inlets such as Little Egg, Barnegat or Manasquan would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but that doesn’t sound so expensive when you compare it to saving tens of billions in storm damage, Smith said.