I am a resident of Midway Beach in the South Seaside Park section of Berkeley Township. Our community has been blessed and was spared from the worst of Sandy’s rage.
The neighboring communities to the north and Island Beach State Park to the south experienced ocean storm surges that washed across the island, destroying and wiping away nearly everything that was in the way.
The entire section of Berkeley Township’s dunes, excluding those in Island Beach State Park, held back the ocean and protected ocean side properties from the crashing waves.
The dunes of Berkeley Township created a nearly uniform wall of protection. It was our natural insurance policy. The dunes - 80 feet to 150 feet wide - offered us a sense of security that we could withstand any storm that came our way.
The key to dunes offering the most protection is that they must be continuous and uniform, with little or no gaps in them. Wide openings in the dune line created by human influence or lack of dune maintenance allow for the winds and the storm surges to open the gaps even further.
When Sandy came she exploited these imperfections, these breaks in the dune line. The wind and wave action wore through them, allowing the ocean to breach and meet the bay.
Adjacent to residential Berkeley Township is Island Beach State Park. A few hundred yards past the park’s border is an area known as Big Dune. It no longer holds the big dune that it was originally named after.
The Great Hurricane of 1938 - also known as the Long Island Express - and the Ash Wednesday Nor’easter back in 1962 both washed through this area. Since the Ash Wednesday storm, the area built back up and one of the biggest dunes around stood there.
According to Dennis ‘Denno’ Farrell, a resident of South Seaside Park, another Nor’easter in recent times wreaked havoc on Big Dune and most of the dune was lost in that single storm event.
Since then, lack of proper management and increased human traffic had left a big gap in the dune line there. The area was prone to a breach and Superstorm Sandy did just that. During the peak of the storm the ocean raged its way through the area and met up with the bay. Local resident Don Whiteman described a four-foot deep raging river washing past the gatehouse of the park.
The breaching surge flooded out the gate house and all of the surrounding residential area, contributing to millions of dollars in property damage.
I was surprised when I read Mark Texel, the state’s parks director for the DEP quote describing how well the park fared. "It's one of the pristine undeveloped barrier islands in New Jersey, and Island Beach State Park did its job very well in the storm, protecting residents on the other side of the bay."
Protecting the residents on the other side of the bay? How did the park do that? What about the residents here on the barrier island? I doubt Mark Texel ever took a ride to the mainland bayshore communities of Berkeley Township to see how well they were protected by the park. Berkeley Township bayshore communities were devastated by flooding partially caused by the breaching ocean.
I doubt Mark Texel ever walked or drove the entire ocean front dune line of the park to see how pristine it really is there. There were no areas along the dune line of Island Beach State Park that were untouched by human traffic.
Evidence of human traffic and disturbance could be seen all over. Tire tracks from the off road vehicles, to the trails and footprints left by dune explorers and all their garbage left behind. Island Beach State Park is a jewel in the state of New Jersey’s park system but it is far from pristine.
Park officials say that the ocean met the bay in seven locations throughout the park. All that excess water in Barnegat Bay, according to Mark Texel’s logic, actually protected residents on the other side of the bay? Realistically, that extra water breaching the island didn’t help communities along the bay. All the excess water in the bay plus a record storm surge devastated bayshore communities.
State officials plan to let the dunes regenerate naturally. Let’s hope their plan to let nature take care of itself includes putting up dune fencing to expedite the process. Without proper dune maintenance, we will surely see more of this in the future as the planet continues to warm and sea level rises.
Most disturbingly, state officials have no immediate plans to restore the dune line that was once Big Dune. They are now calling that entire area where the ocean ripped through the island and flooded out the adjacent community at 24th Avenue a Piping Plover habitat.
The Piping Plover is an endangered shorebird and should be granted levels of protection to ensure its survival, but not here. Piping Plovers that nest there will most certainly be eaten by the thriving Red Fox population that lives in the northern end of the park.
I feel state officials in Trenton are taking the easy way out and are failing to make the tough decisions regarding the protection of state and private property in and adjacent to the park. A uniform and secure dune line at ‘Big Dune’ would certainly ensure the adjacent community protection from the next big storm.
Endangered species habitat is what locals are calling their properties. Many residents will not return and sell. Many will struggle to afford the rising cost of flood insurance and taxes. Many will walk away, accepting a total loss. Most will wage a lifelong battle to rise above the flood waters.
We are hoping the Governor is true to his word. Governor Christie, we need the dunes to be restored. We, the residents of South Seaside Park, are the endangered species. We are the ones in need of habitat restoration.