Building a stronger, more resilient Jersey Shore community

Ten years ago this past fall, Superstorm Sandy devastated the community of Union Beach in Monmouth County. You may remember the iconic photo, shared nationwide, of a yellow Union Beach home torn literally in half by the tempest. The storm impacted everything, from the community’s picturesque shorelines to local businesses, and destroyed or damaged more than 20% of the borough’s total housing stock.

Brook Avenue, in the wake of Sandy and after restoration efforts.

Union Beach has spent the last decade not only repairing the damage, but also preparing for future storms. While there is still work to be done — including a major shoreline restoration project now in progress — the inroads the community has made should be a blueprint for other communities along the Jersey Shore and throughout the mid-Atlantic region. It’s only a matter of time before Mother Nature batters us again.

Since Sandy raged through the region, structures throughout Union Beach have been elevated to safeguard them against future flooding. Buildings that could not be elevated have been dry-proofed by having their outer doors and lower-level windows sealed. This year, in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, we’re working to flood-proof the town itself against heavy rains and tidal flooding. We are restoring and preserving what the hurricane took away — our beautiful shoreline.

A beach fill project, which began in March, will involve the addition of 3,160 linear feet of dunes with three berm crossovers, composed of 688,000 cubic yards of sand. The project will make the community’s beach, currently only a few hundred feet, approximately three times as wide and four times as long. Future phases in subsequent years will involve the construction of storm gates, pump stations and earthen levees. We need to be mindful not only of tidal flooding, but of overflowing of the two main waterways that traverse Union Beach and drain into Raritan Bay. When the tide is up, these tributaries don’t flow as well, and heavy rains can prove disastrous. The eventual pump stations will ensure that excess water can be pumped over the levee and into the bay. Along the way, we’re taking steps to mitigate any wetland disturbance and keep the project as “green” as possible.

Prospect Avenue, in the wake of Sandy and after restoration efforts.

When will the “next Sandy” hit our shores? Some experts believe that climate change is making severe storms more common. Just two years ago, Hurricane Ida caused record damage and, late last year, Hurricane Ian ran roughshod across western Florida.

Simply put — cleaning up after a big storm isn’t enough anymore. We must prepare for them before they happen. We’re doing our part, and neighboring municipalities such as Long Branch, Spring Lake, Belmar and Deal have also made strides. Among numerous investments being made in New Jersey through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is $20 million to elevate U.S. 40, a main evacuation route for Atlantic City, which will help residents travel safely before a superstorm makes landfall. This and the work we are doing is important — but we’ll need to remain vigilant. Communities that don’t take appropriate measures to safeguard against future storms are virtually guaranteed to face significant hardships down the road.

Charles Cocuzza is the mayor of the borough of Union Beach. Robert Keady and Dennis Dayback are with T&M Associates, a leading national consulting, engineering, environmental, technical services and construction management company headquartered in Middletown.