By Donald Wittkowski
Some of Bill Kehner’s neighbors have had their garage doors damaged. At his house on 33rd Street, Kehner once had three flower boxes swept away.
The culprit? It was destructive waves of water kicked up by drivers speeding through Sea Isle City’s flooded streets during storms.
Kehner, a Sea Isle councilman, said he is determined to do something about it. At Tuesday’s Council meeting, he strongly made a case for the governing body to pass a new ordinance that would crack down on drivers plowing through flooded streets and creating boat-like wakes of water that crash against garage doors.
Kehner said he has grown tired of careless drivers who think they have “indestructible vehicles and don’t care about damage to property.”
He believes the ordinance should include highly visible “No Wake Zone” signs that would warn drivers not to speed through stormwater. The Council meeting represented the second time in two months Kehner has publicly pushed for such a law.
To support his position, he pointed to similar “No Wake Zone” ordinances in North Wildwood and the Ocean County beach town of Ship Bottom.
Since Ship Bottom’s ordinance began, there have been fewer complaints from local residents about drivers speeding through flooded areas, suggesting that the law is working, Kehner said.
“The fact that it’s out there has opened the eyes of drivers,” he said.
Sea Isle Police Chief Tom McQuillen told the Council members that he plans to consult with the town’s solicitor and business administrator about the problems caused by wakes of water.
“We are collectively working on it,” McQuillen said.
At the same time, McQuillen noted that there are already motor vehicle laws on the books that allow police to ticket speeding or careless drivers.
Kehner acknowledged that a law specifically targeting drivers who speed through floodwaters would be hard to enforce.
“It’s going to be a very difficult ordinance to enforce because we’re not going to have police cars sitting in the water,” he said in an interview.
Kehner believes any no-wake ordinance should include stiff penalties. He noted, for instance, that North Wildwood’s ordinance includes fines of up to $1,250 and a possible 90-day jail sentence.
As part of its flood-mitigation strategy, Sea Isle is preparing to install flashing road signs throughout town to warn drivers not to stray into stormwater. The flashing signs are separate from the “No Wake Zone” signs that Kehner wants the city to install. However, Kehner asserted that if the city can install flashing signs that warn drivers of flooding, it should also be able to erect “No Wake Zone” signs.
Meanwhile, some Sea Isle residents have taken matters into their own hands by posting their own “No Wake” signs in front of their homes in hopes of protecting their property. Private signs are not backed up by any laws or enforcement action. They are more of an appeal to common courtesy.
Kehner’s neighborhood surrounding 33rd Street and Landis Avenue is one of Sea Isle’s flood-prone areas. Some homeowners intentionally leave their garage doors open several inches to try to lessen the destructive force of waves of water. They would rather have water seep into their garages instead of having it slam into the doors and causing structural damage, Kehner said.
One homeowner, at the corner of 35th Street and Landis Avenue, has installed garage doors that feature a lattice-like design on the bottom to lessen the blow of wakes of water hitting the house.
Some of Kehner’s neighbors use their homes as summer vacation retreats. Kehner said they will often call him or go on his wife’s Facebook page to check on their homes if they are out of town when it floods.
One subject that usually comes up is whether their garage doors have been damaged by wakes of water from passing traffic, Kehner said.
“My wife’s Facebook page goes crazy during storms. Everyone wants to know about damage in the neighborhood,” he said.