There will always be news stories about bad things happening to people, sometimes through no fault of their own. The more readers can identify with the victims, the more they look for ways to avoid the calamity themselves.
Barrier-island homeowners must be hard pressed to see how they might avoid the kind of ongoing nightmare of some Margate homeowners this year. Their houses were seriously damaged last winter during a city project to replace a water and sewer main. As of this month, the end of their ordeal isn’t even in sight.
The project apparently fractured the foundation system of one home, sinking it, twisting its roof, dislodging cabinets from the walls. The city installed four 18-foot steel rods into it to stabilize it.
Concrete in the driveway and on the side of another house cracked, and a fence and sprinkler system were damaged.
The city, its contractor and an insurance company are trying to negotiate a resolution to these and perhaps other cases of damage from the project in January and February. After halting then because of the damage, work resumed in the summer and is expected to finish this month with the paving of affected streets.
A court may need to determine how much the contractor or the city is responsible for the damage. The city’s solicitor said it may end up in litigation. That of course would ensure the homeowners can’t put this behind them for much longer.
Barrier island locations are stressful to buildings and put them at risk of vibration and shaking damage. The islands are accumulations of mostly wet sand that have been stopped from their natural migration toward the mainland.
This kind of geology is notorious for transmitting shock waves of all kinds. When the great earthquake of 1906 hit San Francisco, the filled wetlands extending the city into the bay shook and almost liquefied, destroying what was on them.
Mere pile driving on barrier islands to raise buildings above flood levels once routinely produced complaints of damage from neighboring households. Construction companies would inspect nearby homes for existing damage before banging in the piles, so their owners couldn’t make a claim for existing damage to their foundations. Happily, piles are now typically bored and wiggled into the ground, avoiding the repeated shocks of the pile driver.
The 2016 installation of large steel utility poles in Stone Harbor produced enough claims and worries of damage to the 100-year-old homes of residents that many transmission lines were buried instead at greater cost. The project was the major issue in the defeat that year of the borough’s longtime mayor.
Experienced contractors may know how to avoid damage from most projects. Even so, they and municipalities should make sure insurance is adequate to cover the added risk of island work.
Perhaps the widespread elevation of houses that became the norm after Superstorm Sandy will put them on a firmer footing, one less susceptible to the relatively modest shocks of nearby street work.
Fortunately, major earthquakes are so rare along the Mid-Atlantic coast as to seem nonexistent. One that shook the islands might far exceed all other natural disasters in the area’s history, even if it didn’t sweep the islands with a tsunami.