Citizens for Strathmere & Whale Beach
Good morning: Below is Ed Tettemer's report on last Saturday's meeting.
Greetings from a glorious October beach.
On Saturday, about 60 Strathmerians and Whale Beachers engaged in a very productive conversation with Mayor Palombo and Township Engineer Paul Dietrich. It is clear that the work we've done the past few years has laid the groundwork for a new relationship between our island community and the mainland municipality. And while we may never get the rapid response we think we deserve regarding the specific needs of our beach and bay community, nor the pro-active planning required to fully secure our island's future, we believe we have all gone a long way toward (if you'll permit a bit of idealistic rhetoric) bending the long, moral arc of the universe toward justice.
First, we discussed our ongoing bulkhead/bayfront initiative. Our Citizens group hired Coastal Engineer Doug Gaffney and Surveyor Dave Sharp to review the bay side from the southern boat ramp all the way up to the point. With the realization that 99% of Sandy's damage was due to flooding bay water, combined with the fact that sea levels are rising at an alarming rate (a rise of as much as 5" by 2025 is forecast by data provided in Mr. Gaffney's report), we went to the Township Planning Board and requested they consider recommending a bulkhead height requirement to Township Committee.
Our own Ted Kingston now sits on that Planning Board and was instrumental in getting this notion introduced into the Board's conversation. We had the support of most everyone on the board, as well as Mr. Dietrich, so I hope we have good news to report about that in the next 30 days or so.
Mayor Palombo and Mr. Dietrich brought us up to date on the impending beach replenishment. With bids in and a contract awarded (Great Lakes Dredging), there is reason to believe that the replenishment will happen within this calendar year, perhaps in December. The sand will be dredged from a bar two miles out. Corson's Inlet will not be dredged. Much of the State Park area will be replenished, and the sand should enlarge the dunes and beach right on through to Sea Isle City.
This is part of an Army Corps of Engineers beach protection plan that dates back to the mid-'90s. It is not in response to Sandy or any specific storm. It will be financed solely with federal dollars, and if there is any further protection work of any kind required after the replenishment, we'll have to work with Township and State of New Jersey to plan, permit and finance that work. We will keep our eyes open.
On the bay side, a few blocks in what Mr. Dietrich calls "the lowest spots" - where now nuisance high-tide flooding is common (it's impossible to get to Twisties sometimes without a kayak) - will be raised with funding from a state grant. Some of the storm drain system that has been failing will be repaired, and we hope this is the first step of a long-term flood mitigation program that will happen in collaboration with Cape May County.
The boat ramp reconstruction now has secure funding. Permits and planning continue and this work is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2016 summer season. We're told there will be a fee to use the ramp imposed at that time, with an attendant working at the site every day. Kudos to the Strathmere Fishing & Environmental Club for staying on top of this project.
The big discussion was the possibility of beach tags or other kinds of fees in order to collect revenue to offset the Township's cost of managing the beach. The Beach Patrol itself has a budget of approximately $300,000, according to the mayor. It's important to note that everyone understands the concept of beach tags in Strathmere and Whale Beach is controversial, to say the least. It's also important to note that the mayor remains skeptical that any beach-tag program would be able to pay for itself, let alone kick off extra dollars to offset current township spending on its beach program.
The side effects of beach fees are also quite daunting. The argument was made that imposing beach fees would also require construction of toilet and (perhaps) shower facilities, as well as beach lockers that could be rented by the day. So for those who think that beach fees will somehow improve the Strathmerian quality of life, be careful what you wish for.
While the potential for beach tags appeared less likely after our Saturday conversation, one agenda item was deemed to be popular and quite possible. We all know how dangerous the trip down Commonwealth Avenue can be during the summer season. Cyclists, pedestrians, drivers and folks hopping in out of cars lining the road seem to be on the verge of constant collision. Emergency vehicles have a hard time navigating this stretch of road with any efficiency. Whale Beach is a danger zone when the weather draws the crowds.
One solution discussed was to outlaw parking on the west side of the road. Everyone seemed to agree that one-sided parking would allow for better conditions for cycling and walking, and would set the stage for far fewer mishaps. And while Commonwealth Avenue is a county road, the local municipality (Upper Township) has the authority to mandate parking rules along that road.
The mayor was quite receptive to continuing this conversation with the Township Committee. As this idea moves into the system, we'll ask that you consider making contact with our Township Committee members via their email addresses (each is listed at UpperTownship.com) and lobbying on behalf of one-sided parking along Whale Beach.
The good news is that we're seeing evidence that Upper Township is reaching out to collaborate with the county and the state (even the feds) in ways that would have been unheard of a few years ago. And that they are more receptive to hearing the perspectives from experts they never would have considered worthy prior to our de-annexation efforts.
As George Welker put it best regarding the results of our de-annexation initiative: "We lost the battle but we may have won the war. Things are different now."
On other notes, there will be a town-hall discussion about the FEMA flood maps in the next few months. Mayor Palombo and Paul Dietrich volunteered to come back to Strathmere for a daylong workshop to discuss the proposed new flood maps and walk us through their implications, address by address, so we can all know where we'll stand in terms of flood insurance and such. We'll have 90 days to respond and appeal if we disagree with our individual position on the maps, and the mayor and Mr. Dietrich have pledged the Township's assistance in that effort.
We're not sure when those maps will be released, but believe it may be early spring. We'll broadcast an invitation to this daylong workshop the moment we hear when the 90-day comment period will happen. We hope it's closer to March or April in order to get the most amount of townsfolk in attendance. So keep your eyes peeled for that announcement in the months ahead.
There is plenty more to talk about, especially about how we continue the fight to secure the best services for Strathmere and Whale Beach, and how we can fight to secure the island's future given the fact that flooding and storm surges will only increase in their routine intensity.
Here's a special shout-out to everyone on the CFSWB board, those who participated on Saturday, and to Kandy Kruse, who has taken on the thankless (and time-consuming) task of being our treasurer. She has proven to be absolutely methodical and meticulous with the books. And here's to Rosemarie Whelan, our secretary, whose minutes keep us on track and on focus.
Your comments, questions and yes, financial support, are always welcome. In the meantime, have a safe and peaceful winter season. We'll see you on the beach!