After destruction of Sandy, Longport finally accepting sand dunes

A section of beach at 24th Street in Longport, where there are no dunes. The borough has already suffered $10 million in public property damage.
A section of beach at 24th Street in Longport, where there are no dunes. The borough has already suffered $10 million in public property damage. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 12, 2013

LONGPORT, N.J. - This borough of exclusive beachfront homes will take those dunes now, thank you.

It took the storm of the century to do it, but there has been a sea change in Longport, which had long said a big no, thank you, to dunes that might block pricey ocean views.

"I think Sandy took the subjectiveness out of it," borough engineer Dick Carter said Wednesday.

Now, those views are seen through a new prism: the memory of punishing waves crashing through floor-to-ceiling windows and lifting up swaths of asphalt roadway, ocean-to-bay flooding, and two feet of sand dumped all the way to Atlantic Avenue like some kind of Saharan blizzard.

"It's like a war," Carter said. "If nobody's been through a war, you don't understand the calamity and destruction. We hadn't been subjected to a storm people could understand."

Yes, in tiny but powerful Longport, with $10 million in storm damage to public property, and the only restaurant in town - iconic Ozzie's - still closed from storm damage, they'll take those dunes now, and why don't you add a few hundred yards of beach to the vulnerable Point, while you're at it.

"These storms are game-changers," said Longport Mayor Nicholas Russo, who earlier this year oversaw the rescinding of an ordinance passed more than a decade ago that required a referendum before the town could even ask the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for dunes.

"I have to worry about public safety," Russo said. "I'm not going to wait."

Russo has been lobbying the congressional delegation to make sure Longport will now be included in the dune project. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.), a proponent of beach replenishment, said by e-mail that the evidence was clear that communities with dunes and engineered beaches suffered significantly less damage during Sandy than those without.

"As I have long said, these projects are about protecting property and lives, not simply suntans on a beach," he said.

Still, as Russo acknowledged, it's an emotional issue. While hundreds in town have signed petitions asking the borough government to seek its share of $50 billion in post-Sandy disaster aid earmarked for Shore protection work - dunes and beach replenishment - not everyone is convinced.

Even those whose beachfront homes were all but destroyed by Sandy.

Richard Castor of Center City Philadelphia was in Longport on Wednesday overseeing the rebuilding of his house, which has finally began after a recent insurance settlement, he said.

Sandy sent waves crashing into his home, breaking glass, shoving furniture, and destroying decking and siding. Along nearby 24th Street, crews were only now beginning to repair chunks of asphalt ripped out by the ocean.

But when asked about the dunes, Castor hesitated. "I understand what they're doing," he said. "We're all for safety. Obviously, we can't stop it. Not sure if we should stop it."

From Castor's vantage point, the dunes seemed like one more thing that had gone wrong, rather than a solution. "We will be sitting out on the deck looking at a pile of sand," he said. "It would be nice if they had a vote," he said.

In 2001, a referendum was held in nearby Ventnor, whose year-round residents beat out summer people who had organized an anti-dune movement known as D.U.N.E. - Don't Upset the Natural Environment (funded, in part, by a charity controlled by former Pennsylvania State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, who has a beach-block home in Margate). Dunes were built in Atlantic City and Ventnor, and while some grumbled, Sandy showed their worth.

Margate and Longport sat it out. In Margate, there have been recent discussions with the state, but no decision to ask for dunes.

Russo said he was confident that Longport would vote for dunes now if there were a referendum. The borough has several blocks where dunes were constructed in the '80s, and houses behind those dunes were spared damage.

The town needs seven easements from property owners, according to the state, which would like to see dunes built the entire length of the Jersey Coast.

At the Point - the ominous place where the island ends at 11th Avenue - 10 blocks lost to sea a century ago - there's clarity.

"It's not a difficult decision," said Stephen Hankin, an attorney whose home on Point Drive was pretty much totaled. "You balance lives, infrastructure, and ratables against the views of a pompous few. The proof is in the pudding."

His next-door neighbor, he said, is walking away, putting a damaged multimillion home up for sale, as is. Residents of the point would like to see a beach in front of their homes, which now sit perilously behind a sea wall up against crashing waves.

Neighbor Marvin Ashner, 77, who rode out the storm inside his home, said views were irrelevant. "There isn't any house you can't go to the second floor and see the views."

And borough engineer Carter pointed out that with FEMA's anticipated new elevation standards, houses may need to be raised anyway. "There's no view when you have no house," he said.

Contact Amy Rosenberg at 609-576-1973 or or follow on Twitter @amysrosenberg.

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