By Donald Wittkowski
The coastal storm that drenched the Jersey Shore on Tuesday with chilly, wind-driven rains left some of Sea Isle City’s streets underwater and forced motorists to navigate through a maze of “road flooded” signs.
As the nor’easter was winding down, frustrated local residents appeared before City Council during its meeting Tuesday to urge the governing body to take action before flooding overwhelms the barrier island.
“This water thing is driving me crazy. It’s driving everyone crazy,” said Mike Monichetti, a local restaurant owner who has been imploring city officials for months to protect residents and businesses from flooding.
Monichetti, who has lived in Sea Isle for 60 years, believes the flooding has grown significantly worse in recent years and now poses a serious threat to the town’s tourism industry.
“In all my life, I’ve not seen water like this in the last four years. It’s just crazy,” said Monichetti, the owner of Mike’s Seafood on Park Road.
Christopher Glancey, a local developer and president of the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization, said the business community is particularly vulnerable to flooding because many of the shops are in older, low-lying buildings.
Echoing Monichetti’s comments, Glancey warned that Sea Isle’s tourist-dependent economy could be harmed unless the city finds ways to ease the flooding.
“Without the business community and the tourists, Sea Isle will have a tough road,” Glancey told Council.
At its next meeting, Council is expected to approve funding for a comprehensive flooding study. It is expected to be a sweeping analysis of Sea Isle’s most flood-prone areas as well as what can be done to protect them from raging ocean waters and the overflowing back bays.
City Business Administrator George Savastano said the study will be performed throughout the year. The first batch of recommendations should be ready by early 2018, he indicated.
“I know it’s frustrating to have days like today, when water comes up and it takes a significant time to go out,” Savastano told residents at the Council meeting.
City officials have warned that it will take a huge amount of money to finance a comprehensive flooding plan, including the construction of better drainage systems, new pumping stations, dikes and road reconstruction.
While the new study will take a longer-term approach to flooding, some flood-control initiatives are underway in Sea Isle or have already been completed, such as beach and dune replenishment projects and new road and drainage improvements.
“It’s not like we’re not doing anything,” Savastano said.
City officials noted that the new study will look at flooding from a broader, regional perspective rather than just limiting it to Sea Isle because that would open up the possibility of securing more public funding to fight the problem.
Sea Isle will collaborate with Cape May County on the study because the county controls major parts of the city’s pipes and other flood-control systems. Monichetti urged city officials to inspect the county pipe system to make sure it is properly maintained and not causing even more flooding.
“I can’t emphasize enough how serious this is,” Monichetti said.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio said he intends to invite Cape May County Engineer Dale Foster to an upcoming Council meeting to discuss the flooding issue.
“Do we have a flooding problem? Yes. Are we going to address it? Yes,” Desiderio said in an interview after the Council meeting.
Council members suggested they are not content to sit back and simply wait for the flooding study to be completed before taking action. In recent weeks, some Council members, particularly John Divney, have been pushing to fast track flood-control projects that are proposed in the city’s newly updated master plan.
“We need, somehow, to address this water coming,” Council President William Kehner said.
Only a few blocks from City Hall, where the Council meeting was held, lingering floodwaters from Tuesday’s storm continued to swamp some of the streets. Motorists encountered a series of orange “road flooded” and “road closed” signs as they made their way around town.
The nor’easter caused extensive flooding at the Jersey Shore, underscoring the challenges that Sea Isle and other beach towns face when powerful storms lash the coast. Desiderio said Sea Isle fared no worse with the flooding Tuesday than other beachfront communities in Cape May County.
“The town is doing well,” he said. “There is flooding across the county. Sea Isle does not have a lock on flooding.”
Overall, Sea Isle was hit the hardest Tuesday in areas where tidal flooding typically occurs, the mayor said.
He mentioned a series of roads that were flooded, including 33rd, 39th, 42nd, 43rd, 45th, 46th and 47th streets on Central Avenue and 39th, 45th, 59th, 63rd and 72nd streets on Landis Avenue.
Police closed off the intersection of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Central Avenues, one of the busiest arteries in town. A look down Central Avenue from JFK Boulevard revealed blocks that were completely underwater Tuesday morning.