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Seagate, NY - Should Worst-Flooded Areas Be Left After Sandy?

Published on: January 21, 2013 09:30 PM
By: AP
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In this Oct. 30 2012 photo, A devastated unidentified long-time resident of Sea Gate walking down the sand-covered Atlantic Avenue while navigating between personal belongings and debris from homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Some of the homes on this water-front street were swept away by the raging waves while all home have suffered extensive damages. Photo: Eli Wohl/VIN News In this Oct. 30 2012 photo, A devastated unidentified long-time resident of Sea Gate walking down the sand-covered Atlantic Avenue while navigating between personal belongings and debris from homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Some of the homes on this water-front street were swept away by the raging waves while all home have suffered extensive damages. Photo: Eli Wohl/VIN News

Seagate, NY - Superstorm Sandy, one of the nation’s costliest natural disasters, is giving new urgency to an age-old debate about whether areas repeatedly damaged by storms should be rebuilt, or whether it might be cheaper in the long run to buy out vulnerable properties and let nature reclaim them.

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The difficulty in getting aid for storm victims through Congress — most of a $60 billion package could get final approval next week — highlights the hard choices that may have to be made soon across the country, where the federal, state and local governments all say they don’t have unlimited resources to keep writing checks when storms strike.

But the idea of abandoning a place that has been home for years is unthinkable for many.

“We’re not retreating,” said Dina Long, the mayor of Sea Bright, N.J., a chronically flooded spit of sand between the Atlantic Ocean and the Shrewsbury River only slightly wider than the length of a football field in some spots. Three-quarters of its 1,400 residents are still homeless and the entire business district was wiped out; only four shops have managed to reopen.

Despite a rock and concrete sea wall and pumping equipment in the center of town, Sea Bright floods repeatedly. It is the go-to spot for TV news trucks every time a storm roars up the coast. But as in many other storm-damaged communities, there is a fierce will to survive, to rebuild and to restore.

“Nobody has come to us and said we shouldn’t exist,” she said. “It is antithetical to the Jersey mindset, and particularly to the Sea Bright mindset. We’re known for being strong, for being resilient, for not backing down.”

The story is different in the Oakwood Beach section of Staten Island, N.Y., where despite 20 years of flood protection measures, Sandy’s 12- to 14-foot-storm surge inundated the community, forcing some residents to their attics or roofs to survive. Three people died.

“Building again and again in this very sensitive flood plain will only achieve the same results — flooding, and possibly untimely death,” homeowner Tina Downer told about 200 of her neighbors who gathered to discuss a potential buyout program last week. “It is not safe for anyone to live there.”

The problem has worsened in recent decades with an explosion of development near the nation’s shorelines. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that in 2003, approximately 153 million people — 53 percent of the nation’s population — lived in coastal counties, an increase of 33 million people since 1980. The agency forecasts 12 million more to join them by 2015.

Scientists say that putting so many people in the most vulnerable areas is a recipe for disaster.

Jon Miller, a professor of coastal engineering at New Jersey’s Stevens Institute of technology, said retreating from the most vulnerable areas makes scientific sense. But he adds that the things that were built there — beach clubs, boardwalks and amusement piers — give communities their character, and fuel tourism and business.

If buyouts did occur, he predicted they would happen in areas with lower property values because of the high cost of buying up prime coastal real estate. That could have the unintended consequence of placing the shore off-limits to all but the wealthy, he said.

“I grew up in Rahway and I remember the controversy when several properties along the Rahway River were bought out due to repetitive flood losses,” Miller said. “It was painful and caused dissension in the community.”

Residents feared not only being forced from their homes but also not getting enough money to purchase a suitable home in the same community, Miller said.

A 1988 Duke University shore protection study cited a nor’easter that occurred in Sea Bright four years earlier, causing $82 million in damages — about equal to the value of all the town’s buildings at the time.

“Clearly the economics of this situation dictate that Sea Bright is not worthy of salvation, although politics and other considerations may decide otherwise,” the study asserted. “The prudent management alternative in this community would be the gradual removal or relocation of the buildings.”

Talking about post-storm retreat is one thing; actually doing it has proven much harder.

After Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans in 2005, there was talk of abandoning some of the most flood-prone areas. But a proposal from a storm panel excluded the hard-hit Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East, a neighborhood long home to affluent and upper-middle-class black families, touching off an uproar that scuttled the plan.

More than seven years later, much of New Orleans is thriving: unemployment is relatively low, the tourism industry is healthy, the city is preparing to host a Super Bowl, and no neighborhood has been abandoned.

But not everyone has come back. As of July 2011, the Census Bureau estimated New Orleans’ population at 360,740, less than three-quarters its population in 2000. In the Lower 9th Ward, vacant lots and abandoned homes dominate the landscape, and four out of five residents who lived there before the storm have left.

The question of whether to rebuild or retreat touches many East Coast communities.

Westerly, R.I. recently got $1.1 million in federal money to buy eight low-lying properties near the Pawcatuck River that are frequently flooded. In North Carolina, some have called for deserting Highway 12 — the only land link between Hatteras Island and the mainland — in favor of a ferry system after Hurricane Irene and Sandy caused $14 million in damages. A state panel in Delaware found few affordable options as it considered what to do about seven Delaware Bay communities threatened by storms and rising sea levels.

Sea Bright is requiring homeowners to raise their rebuilt properties higher — as much as 17 feet above sea level in some cases — if they want to qualify for federal flood insurance.

Frank and Dee Kurzawa, whose home near the river took on 4 feet of water, could have to spend $30,000 to raise it. Yet they’re staying put, even if it’s a little higher than before.

“Even with the possibility of this happening again, we’re coming back,” Dee Kurzawa said. “We plan to pass this house on to our grandchildren.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie considers strategic retreat from some storm-damaged areas on the table “in a broad way,” but said he wants to leave the ultimate decisions to individual towns after giving them advice later this week on how to rebuild.

Part of a neighbor’s home broke loose and smashed through the wall of Karen Finkelstein’s Sea Bright home. She’s still “shell-shocked” in Sandy’s aftermath, but can’t see herself leaving.

“I want to see us come back, but with precautions in place,” she said. “You’re taking a risk by choosing to live in this area. But when it’s home to you, it’s really hard to leave the familiar place where your roots are.”


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Read Comments (19)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jan 21, 2013 at 09:44 PM Yiddl Says:

Seagaters time to move.

2

 Jan 21, 2013 at 09:53 PM Election2013 Says:

My proposal for sea gate:

Demolish the entire area and bring in the big box stores like Walmart and Macy's, make it into a huge shopping and entertainment center. It will bring in lots of tax dollars.

3

 Jan 21, 2013 at 09:59 PM Seagater Says:

What happened in sea gate by sandy, is not enough of reason that more than 1000 family's to abandon this beautiful place, true disaster happened, but so happened in Manhattan & other neighborhoods.
The fact is that it's a tragedy that hadn't happen for over 100yrs & it's ludicrous to suggest we do shud leave from the peace of our homes for a once in a millennium (hopefully) occurrence!

5

 Jan 22, 2013 at 12:57 AM Anonymous Says:

I know a few people in seagate who do not live along the water. none of them had major damage. They had no electricity for a month and still have no phone but their houses did not have major damage. They were able to move back home when the power was restored. It seems to me that the worst damage was to the homes that line the beach. The rest of the people in seagate were able to resume living in seagate. If someone knows different please post different.

6

 Jan 22, 2013 at 01:53 AM Sea-Gate Says:

i think seagate residents should move to israel make an aliyah, because Al Gore says due to global warming another hurricane like sandy will come every year, its not worth to rebuild seagate and evrey year to get damaged by another storm, how many times can we make a "Shabbos-Seagate" Appeal ?????

7

 Jan 22, 2013 at 05:00 AM Anonymous Says:

A few sayings come to mind:

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results - Albert Einstein

Let me reassure everyone, every time another Sandy style storm hits those living close to the water will get less and less sympathy and support.

Although we hope nothing bad comes to anyone, we must be realistic.

8

 Jan 22, 2013 at 08:20 AM PaulinSaudi Says:

Owners should be able to do as they wish. I would propose no new street repairs, no water or sewer repairs. No new government buildings. The area needs to die, but there is no reason to be in a hurry about it.

9

 Jan 22, 2013 at 08:39 AM Butterfly Says:

If the Govt does not invest in dikes or walls of some sort like in Holland to prevent flooding, then I see no reason to rebuild. It will happen again. Chas v'shalom. Why throw out good money? Find a nice house not near water on higher ground and use the insurance money to buy the house.

10

 Jan 22, 2013 at 08:50 AM mewhoze Says:

sadly the same thing seems to happen in seabright in new jersey. the scariest part is that insurance companies will no longer offer insurance in those areas. that is something to think about.
unless a fool proff way is invented that can protect the home from these storms i would be scared that it could happen again and be worse than sandy.
be safe all!

11

 Jan 22, 2013 at 10:38 AM monalisa Says:

A bit harsh & callous #3, don't you think? I get your point but don't you think it could have been less combative? After all, Seagaters weren't expecting Sandy, just like Thailand didn't wait for a Tsunami. Give them a break, they're suffering. BTW didn't our tax dollars go to fund all those Inauguration Balls & other narishkeit like $7 million vacations for Obama? I wonder which money is better spent?

12

 Jan 22, 2013 at 10:49 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #5  
Anonymous Says:

I know a few people in seagate who do not live along the water. none of them had major damage. They had no electricity for a month and still have no phone but their houses did not have major damage. They were able to move back home when the power was restored. It seems to me that the worst damage was to the homes that line the beach. The rest of the people in seagate were able to resume living in seagate. If someone knows different please post different.

Well I donn't think the point is to shut down all beach communties rather scale it bak a few blocks move the beach line back a few blocks.

13

 Jan 22, 2013 at 10:53 AM Trying Says:

Reply to #5  
Anonymous Says:

I know a few people in seagate who do not live along the water. none of them had major damage. They had no electricity for a month and still have no phone but their houses did not have major damage. They were able to move back home when the power was restored. It seems to me that the worst damage was to the homes that line the beach. The rest of the people in seagate were able to resume living in seagate. If someone knows different please post different.

Obviously, you were not in Seagate and did not see the extent of damage there. Having been to Seagate several times to help with post-hurricane relief I can tell you unequivocally that if you can write this you have no clue as to the extent of the damage.

14

 Jan 22, 2013 at 11:44 AM FinVeeNemtMenSeichel Says:

The vicious dogs of doom are barking, snarling and baring their ugly fangs. What will you yentas do when THE BIG ONE (you know it's coming) hits where you live? I say lets just let the whole world return to its wild, uninhabited state. Lets all become luddites, vegetarians and hippies and this planet of ours will exist in perfect green harmony.

15

 Jan 22, 2013 at 12:29 PM Savta Says:

Reply to #2  
Election2013 Says:

My proposal for sea gate:

Demolish the entire area and bring in the big box stores like Walmart and Macy's, make it into a huge shopping and entertainment center. It will bring in lots of tax dollars.

I have lived in seagate for 27 years and this is the first time we flooded. Why not clear out boro park or williamsburg for the big box stores? We are a strong community with ties to each other tremendous chesed and tzinut with baal habatim talmidie chachomim and you can say something like this SHAME ON YOU

16

 Jan 22, 2013 at 12:34 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #11  
monalisa Says:

A bit harsh & callous #3, don't you think? I get your point but don't you think it could have been less combative? After all, Seagaters weren't expecting Sandy, just like Thailand didn't wait for a Tsunami. Give them a break, they're suffering. BTW didn't our tax dollars go to fund all those Inauguration Balls & other narishkeit like $7 million vacations for Obama? I wonder which money is better spent?

As a country we don't have money for either. SO who cares which is better spent? We are in debt and can't find our way out.

17

 Jan 22, 2013 at 12:37 PM me_say Says:

"Seagater's" hang in there! be proud! "we will get up not give up! So easy for others to preach while living in their million dollar comfortable homes elsewhere! Maybe those people complaining about their tax money going to seagate should consider to lower the rent to give other people a chance to be able to live elswhere.

18

 Jan 22, 2013 at 01:30 PM savta Says:

Reply to #5  
Anonymous Says:

I know a few people in seagate who do not live along the water. none of them had major damage. They had no electricity for a month and still have no phone but their houses did not have major damage. They were able to move back home when the power was restored. It seems to me that the worst damage was to the homes that line the beach. The rest of the people in seagate were able to resume living in seagate. If someone knows different please post different.

I live 3 blocks away from the beach and cannot move home because all my bedrooms were destroyed. We had over eight feet of water in our house. While many people are home and are not using tax dollars to repair, some of us are not there yet. BTW I HAVE FLOOD INSURANCE even though I officially according to the government maps are not in a flood zone so B"H I am not using your or my tax dollars to do my repairs.

19

 Jan 22, 2013 at 01:45 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #11  
monalisa Says:

A bit harsh & callous #3, don't you think? I get your point but don't you think it could have been less combative? After all, Seagaters weren't expecting Sandy, just like Thailand didn't wait for a Tsunami. Give them a break, they're suffering. BTW didn't our tax dollars go to fund all those Inauguration Balls & other narishkeit like $7 million vacations for Obama? I wonder which money is better spent?

FYI the inaugural balls and vacation expenses are paid for by private fund, not tax moneys, except of course for the security arrangements (Secret Service, etc.) which are a necessary expense 24/7 no matter which president is doing what at the time. When it comes to vacations, as it happens, all presidents take vacations, and the biggest vacationer was George W. Bush.

20

 Jan 22, 2013 at 09:32 PM MAYERFREUND Says:

According to your statement, this should apply to all that live in stricken areas. Such including Israelies stricken by rockets, Californians stricken by earthquakes, Florida and Lakewood from Hurricanes, Upstate New York from "Irene"

21

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