By Donald Wittkowski
An imposing rock wall about 4 feet high now lines both sides of 38th Street leading to the bay at Sounds Avenue.
At first glance, the fortress-like barrier would seem completely out of place for an enclave of upscale bayfront homes in one of the quietest and most remote neighborhoods of Sea Isle City.
But it is needed. The wall acts as the first line of defense against what homeowners describe as incessant flooding that comes from both the bay and the marshlands surrounding the neighborhood.
Responding to complaints from residents, the city is adding a series of flood-fighting measures along 38th Street from Central Avenue to Sounds Avenue, including the rock wall and what will be Sea Isle’s very first pumping station to flush stormwater back into the bay.
Improvements to 38th Street have broader implications. The neighborhood will serve as an example of how city officials intend to protect the entire low-lying barrier island from coastal storms in decades to come.
“This is the first phase to sustain ourselves as the ocean rises in the next 50 years,” City Councilman Jack Gibson said. “We have to plan for major, major flooding that’s going to get worse as we go on.”
Gibson met with a dozen homeowners of 38th Street and Sounds Avenue on Sunday to discuss the city’s strategy for their flood-prone neighborhood.
The rock wall, which Gibson called a berm, has created a much stronger barrier than the mounds of dirt once piled up along 38th Street to protect homes from flooding in the adjacent marshlands. In heavy rain, the dirt mixed with the floodwater to create a mess on the road, homeowners said.
Last week, the city completed the repaving of 38th Street from Central Avenue to Sounds Avenue. The street was regraded and repaved to even out its undulating surface caused by the construction of a new stormwater pipe leading to the bay.
Next, the city plans to build a pumping station at the bay end of 38th Street. Consisting of three different chambers, it will “intercept” stormwater and pump it back into the bay to clear the streets of flooding, explained Gibson, who is also a civil engineer.
The first chamber is designed to handle flooding from a normal storm. The second chamber would be used during more serious flooding. The third chamber would help with severe storms, Gibson said.
Gibson told the neighbors that the pumping station would not, however, stop flooding in a major storm, such as the powerful nor’easter, named Jonas, that swamped the Jersey Shore in January 2016.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Lou Gryga, a Sounds Avenue resident who has acted as a spokesman for the neighborhood.
Gryga and other residents, though, pressed Gibson for details about exactly when the new pumping station will be built. They said it is behind schedule. Gibson promised to give an update on the project when City Council holds its meeting on Tuesday.
“We appreciate transparency,” Gary Parks, who lives on 38th Street, told Gibson while thanking him for meeting with the residents.
Michele Ciuro, who has owned a house on Sounds Avenue for 21 years, said flooding becomes so bad at times that the streets are impassable. She noted that her son, Christopher, was forced to park a block away on Cini Avenue and had to use a pair of thigh-high rubber boots to wade through the stormwater to get to Sounds Avenue.
“You can’t get through here,” Ciuro said of the flooding.
Ciuro said her family lost two cars during the flooding unleashed by Jonas.
Residents of 38th Street and Sounds Avenue first appeared before City Council last year to complain about the flooding. At that time, they suspected the flooding was exacerbated by a new city stormwater pipe that ends in the bay at 38th Street. They said the drainage pipe has simply been overwhelmed, allowing flooding to inundate the streets.
The homeowners believe the new pipe is overtaxed because it handles stormwater not only from 38th Street, but also from 39th and 40th streets.
“It doesn’t stop water from coming back,” Gryga said. “At regular tide, it’s buried in water.”
Gibson responded that the new pumping station will help reduce any possible problems stemming from the pipeline, as well as flooding in general.
The neighborhood of 38th Street and Sounds Avenue is just one of the flood-prone areas that city officials are addressing. Sea Isle is in the midst of a comprehensive flood-control study to find ways to protect the town from coastal storms, including the construction of road, drainage and pumping projects. The study is scheduled to be completed this summer.
Among the safety measures under consideration, Sea Isle officials are discussing an early-warning system that would consist of 56 flashing road signs, located throughout town, to keep residents and tourists away from flooded areas.