By Donald Wittkowski
Councilman Bill Kehner believes it is time to crack down on the “clowns” who recklessly speed through Sea Isle City’s flooded streets, churning up destructive wakes of water that crash against garage doors and cause other property damage.
“Whatever is in the way of those wakes, it just devastates them,” Kehner said.
After discussing the problem for two years, City Council is expected to introduce a new ordinance Tuesday to create “no wake zones.” The proposed law will prohibit motorists from sending wakes or waves of water over the curb line when street flooding is at least 6 inches deep.
“We’re just trying to get the word out that Sea Isle means business,” Kehner said. “We have clowns going around in their big SUVs and causing damage to people’s homes by speeding through flooded areas.”
Violators would face a maximum fine of $1,250 and up to 90 days in jail – stiff penalties that Kehner stressed will send a message that Sea Isle will not tolerate reckless drivers plowing through stormwater.
Judges would have the discretion to impose small fines under the ordinance, but could also slap motorists with more serious penalties “if people are taking it as a joke,” Kehner noted.
Sea Isle is following other shore towns that have created so-called “no wake zone” laws to keep motorists from speeding through flooded neighborhoods and causing property damage.
North Wildwood and Ship Bottom have adopted ordinances to deal with a similar problem. 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.
“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 no wake law in Sea Isle for the past two years after seeing property damage in his neighborhood caused by drivers zipping through flood waters.
“I’ll give him credit for bringing it forward,” Council President Jack Gibson said of Kehner.
Wakes of water hit with such force that they have damaged the garage doors of some of Kehner’s neighbors. At his house on 33rd Street, Kehner once had three flower boxes swept away.
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 water pounding 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.
Kehner has discussed the possibility of having the city post its own “No Wake Zone” signs, but has decided to back off for the time being. Instead, he will settle for the city’s flashing “Road Flooded” signs that are part of a new stormwater warning system that Sea Isle put into operation last week.
Although Sea Isle is on the verge of introducing the new no wake zone ordinance – a public hearing and final vote by Council would follow later – both Kehner and Gibson acknowledged the law will probably be hard to enforce.
Kehner said he hopes drivers will use their “common sense.” However, for the first time police would have the power to ticket motorists for causing wakes of water once the ordinance takes effect.
Gibson believes the ordinance will also give the city a greater opportunity to educate drivers about the dangers of speeding through flooded areas, and the damage they may cause.