Brian Teefy, Sea Isle City's traffic maintenance supervisor, stands next to one of the new "Road Flooded" signs that will flash when stormwaters threaten the town.

By Donald Wittkowski

Driving around town, motorists have probably noticed new road signs in Sea Isle City covered in black plastic wrapping.

Soon, the wrapping will come off to reveal what Mayor Leonard Desiderio promises will be the largest flood warning system of its type for any municipality in New Jersey.

“We are currently in the process of installing the most comprehensive flood warning system in the state,” the mayor said in his State of the City address on Feb. 13.

Sea Isle, a low-lying barrier island vulnerable to flooding, will have dozens of flashing “Road Flooded” signs as part of an early warning system to protect motorists from rising stormwater.

The warning system will include 64 LED-powered signs strategically located in six zones throughout town often hit by flooding. The signs are expected to be ready by March 1, said Brian Teefy, Sea Isle’s traffic maintenance supervisor.

City Council has approved a $136,717 contract with Garden State Highway Products Inc. of Millville, N.J., for the flood warning system. Desiderio said the city has obtained $90,000 in funding from Cape May County to help pay the cost.

“This is a joint effort with the county that will serve all of our residents and visitors through illuminated signage in our most flood-prone areas that will be able to be triggered automatically by on-site sensors, or manually by city public safety personnel,” Desiderio said.

Teefy uses a ladder to remove plastic wrapping that had covered the sign.

Sea Isle officials explained that the flashing signs would be turned on before flooding actually strikes to give residents and visitors as much advanced warning as possible based on storm conditions and the weather forecast. Electronic sensors would detect rising stormwaters.

One major advantage of the system would be to warn people to move their cars to higher ground before it’s too late to get out, Teefy noted. It would also help them avoid driving into areas swamped by stormwater.

“What I like is, if we can help just one person from losing their car, to me, that’s a bonus,” Teefy said.

Among the locations, the signs will be installed at the three entryways into Sea Isle, giving motorists ample warning to turn around and head back instead of driving into floodwater, he added.

Equipped with sensors, cameras and “a float system,” the flood warning network is controlled by a series of “mother poles” that activate the flashing signs. The cameras allow police dispatchers to keep an eye on rising floodwaters. Dispatchers will also have the ability to manually activate the signs.

Homeowners will be able to sign up for text and email flooding alerts as part of the warning system. Teefy noted that the alerts will be helpful to both local residents as well as people who live out of state but own vacation homes in Sea Isle.

“If you live in Drexel Hill (Pennsylvania), you can call your neighbor in Sea Isle and say, ‘Hey, Bill, how bad is it down there?”’ Teefy said.

As Sea Isle gets ready to activate the road signs, the neighboring shore towns of Ocean City, Avalon and Wildwood are anxious to see how the warning system works because they may be interested in a similar project, according to Teefy.

Sea Isle, a low-lying barrier island, is vulnerable to flooding.