Flooding gets worse for Jersey Shore homes, even with no storms

Flooding gets worse for Jersey Shore homes, even with no storms

By:  Jean Mikle
Asbury Park Press

To Ortley Beach resident Paul Jeffrey, it's obvious. Flooding in the barrier island community is definitely getting worse.

On the afternoon of Nov. 19, a sunny fall day, Jeffrey took photos of tidal flooding on Sixth Avenue, where a truck whizzed by, stirring up a wake of brackish water.

The street had flooded at high tide, even though strong winds from an offshore storm had subsided, and there was no rain that day.

For Jeffrey and many others who live in lower-lying areas of the Jersey Shore, there is little doubt that flooding has increased in recent years.

"It's not windy today, the storm is gone, the sky is clear," Jeffrey said. "There is no doubt that it is more frequent and worse than it was."

A new report from independent researchers the Rhodium Group confirms Jeffrey's belief: sea-level rise caused by increasing global temperatures since 1980 have put 23,000 more New Jersey homes and other buildings — worth $13 billion — at risk of frequent flooding. 

"Warming oceans take up more space, a process known as thermal expansion, which contributes — along with melting glaciers and ice sheets — to sea-level rise," the report states. "Globally, sea levels have risen by 7 to 8 inches since 1900, at a rate greater than any similar period in at least the last 3,000 years."

Sea levels along New Jersey's coastline have risen more than twice as much as the global average, according to the report. Sea level in Atlantic City, for instance, has risen 15.8 inches since 1900, and nearly 6 inches since 1980, the report says.

Sea-level rise has a big economic impact as well: research by First Street Foundation estimates tidal flooding changes caused by rising seas have already reduced home values in New Jersey by $4.5 billion.

The cost of wind and flood damage will continue to grow in the years ahead, according to the report, with an additional $1.3 billion to $3.1 billion in average annual losses expected statewide due to projected changes in sea level and hurricane activity, according to Rhodium Group report.

"These projections are not foregone conclusions," according to the researchers. "Future reductions in global emissions would substantially reduce these hazards in the second half of the century, but that alone will not be enough. ... Investments in resilience, both in flood-prone coastal counties and non-coastal counties facing growing hurricane wind risk, can further reduce future risk."

Menendez, D-N.J., has been lobbying for passage of a bipartisan bill that extends the National Flood Insurance Program through 2024, and provides $1 billion annually for flood mitigation projects.

The bill would require mitigation for properties that have suffered repeated flooding incidents, and also doubles — to $60,000 — Increased Cost of Compliance grants that can be used for projects that would make homes and businesses less vulnerable to floods.

ICC grants are available to flood insurance policy holders, but currently can only be accessed after a home is damaged by flood.

The Menendez legislation allows access to the money before a natural disaster. The bill has garnered bipartisan support, but has also run into resistance from some lawmakers who view the NFIP as a taxpayer-funded bailout for wealthy homeowners, or an incentive for people to rebuild in flood-prone areas.

The flood insurance program has been extended until Dec. 20.

The Rhodium report is the latest to stress the risk posed by sea-level rise to New Jersey's coastal properties.

An August report by Climate Central showed that the state has allowed more new homes to be built in areas at risk for flooding from sea level rise than any other state, with Ocean County leading the way with more than 2,300 new homes; they face a 1-in-10 risk of flooding each year.

The Climate Central report estimates that New Jersey overall will have nearly 3,100 new homes at risk of annual flooding by 2050.

Ocean County Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy said flooding in the county is noticeable during new and full moon tides.

"We're getting flooding in Seaside Park, Island Heights, Pine Beach, Waretown," Mastronardy said.

In Toms River, the township has been working to elevate several roads in flood-prone areas, raising the pavement and resurfacing it to reduce frequent flooding. 

Ortley Beach resident Jeffrey noted that Washington Avenue in Ortley was one of the streets recently raised as part of the ongoing road elevation project. But water was still pooling at intersections on Washington Avenue during the Nov. 19 high tide, he said.

"The street was raised 18 inches two years ago, and there is still water at the corners," Jeffrey said.