By Donald Wittkowski
The intersection of 40th Street and Central Avenue is Sea Isle City’s version of the canary in a coal mine.
When flooding strikes in Sea Isle, 40th and Central is usually one of the first areas in town to get swamped.
As an early indicator of flooding citywide, this intersection now has its own web camera that will allow local residents and visitors to keep an eye on rising stormwaters.
“40th and Central is one of the first locations in Sea Isle that floods. It’s a good barometer of what goes on in town,” explained Neil Byrne, the city’s floodplain manager and construction official.
Byrne and other officials held a press conference Monday to officially unveil the flood camera, which is attached to the Sea Isle Public Works building overlooking 40th and Central.
The camera was funded by a $5,000 grant by the OceanFirst Bank through the New Jersey Coastal Coalition, a group of 22 municipalities in five counties that joined together in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s devastating blow to the Jersey Shore in 2012.
It will livestream images on a 24-hour basis at https://www.njcoastalcoalition.com/sea-isle-city-web-cam.
Sea Isle is part of a pilot program that may eventually include flood cameras in other towns that are members of the Coastal Coalition, which represents municipalities in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Middlesex and Ocean counties.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio noted that the web cam is one component of a broader strategy by Sea Isle to protect residents and visitors from flooding, including the construction of road projects, drainage improvements and a new pumping station. In March, the city installed 78 flashing road signs across town to warn motorists of flooding.
“We’re just trying to be proactive to let residents and visitors know when it is flooding,” Desiderio said.
With the approach of the summer season, Sea Isle is preparing for the arrival of tens of thousands of tourists. The town’s year-round population of around 2,100 typically swells to 40,000 or more during the height of the vacation season.
Desiderio said the Jersey Shore is a wonderful place to live and visit for virtually the entire year, but there are usually a few days when storms and flooding create “certain challenges.”
“It’s those three, four or five days a year that cause havoc or problems,” he said.
The web cam is designed to help people during nuisance flooding, not major storms. The mayor said it will serve as another tool to warn people to move their cars out of flood-prone areas when stormwaters begin to rise.
City Council President Jack Gibson believes the web camera will also change the travel habits of local residents, helping them to navigate around flood-prone neighborhoods like the intersection of 40th and Central.
Sea Isle was selected as the location for the first flood camera because of its strong support for the Coastal Coalition over the years, officials said.
The coalition wants to add similar web cameras in other shore communities that are vulnerable to flooding, according to Tom Quirk, the group’s executive director.
“If we do it correctly, we’ll have the first network of its kind in the United States,” Quirk said.
Quirk indicated he plans to pursue other private and public grants to secure funding for cameras in other communities.
“The idea is to build a private-public partnership,” he said.
Quirk explained that he hopes to secure even more funding from OceanFirst Bank for cameras along the coast.
The $5,000 for Sea Isle’s flood camera came from the OceanFirst Foundation, which was created when the bank went public in 1996. The endowed foundation has about $30 million on hand and plans to donate $2.4 million this year, said Katherine Durante, its executive director.
Durante pointed out that OceanFirst was involved in the disaster relief efforts at the Jersey Shore following Hurricane Sandy. The flood camera in Sea Isle garnered the funding support of the bank’s foundation because it is a key part of efforts to build a “stronger, safer New Jersey,” Durante added.