By Donald Wittkowski
Sea Isle City is taking steps to prevent speeding motorists from churning up wakes of water that slam into homes, damaging garage doors and wiping out flower beds in the process.
City Council unanimously introduced an ordinance Tuesday that effectively declares the entire town a “no wake zone” to force drivers to slow down when streets are flooded. A public hearing and final vote on the measure will be held at Council’s April 9 meeting.
The proposed law will prohibit motorists from sending waves of water over the curb line when street flooding is at least 6 inches deep.
Councilman William Kehner, chief proponent of the ordinance, said homeowners in his neighborhood have had their garage doors damaged by drivers recklessly speeding through floodwaters. At his house on 33rd Street, Kehner once had three flower boxes swept away by wakes of water.
“It’s a pet peeve of mine that these people with these SUVs, large trucks and four-by-fours love driving around in flooded conditions,” Kehner said during the Council meeting. “Quite a few of my neighbors have had damage to their garage doors because these individuals think it’s funny to be riding around and causing these wakes.”
Under the ordinance, violators would face a maximum fine of $1,250 and up to 90 days in jail. Kehner said the stiff penalties will “let the people know that we’re serious about damage to private property.”
Judges would have the discretion to impose small fines under the ordinance, but could also slap motorists with more serious penalties “if people are just out there cowboying and clowning around,” Kehner warned.
Sea Isle is following other shore towns that have created so-called “no wake zone” laws to protect homes and other property from damage.
North Wildwood and Ship Bottom have adopted ordinances to deal with a similar problem. Since Ship Bottom’s ordinance began last year, there have been fewer complaints from local residents about drivers speeding through flooded areas, suggesting that the law is working, Kehner said.
“They said that ever since they put it into effect there, the complaints have been cut in half,” he said.
Kehner has been pushing for a new law in Sea Isle for the past two years after seeing property damage in his neighborhood caused by drivers zipping through floodwaters during storms.
“I’m proud of the Council for following through with me and giving our police something to put out there and to let the people know that we’re serious about damage to private property,” he said of the ordinance.
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 wakes of water. They would rather have water seep into their garages instead of having it slam into the doors and causing structural damage.
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 water crashing against the house.
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.