This is part of a periodic series about the New Jersey shore's efforts to rebuild and return to normalcy in the second summer after Superstorm Sandy ravaged many coastal communities.
While scientists, politicians and engineers ponder ways to better protect New Jersey from storms like Superstorm Sandy, some of the best ideas are coming from those who suffered the most.
As the second summer after Sandy approaches, several of the hardest-hit towns are leaning heavily on their residents for ideas on how best to protect themselves from future storms. They are offering real-world suggestions like building bulkheads, repairing dunes, installing drainage valves and better securing boats and floating docks.
"In rebuilding, a lot of it is about how property owners choose to respond: raise the home, don't do anything or tear down and rebuild," said Dave Roberts, a professional planner hired by Toms River through a post-storm grant. "What are our neighborhoods going to look like after people make those choices?"
All along the shore, towns are soliciting ideas from those who lived through the storm. Toms River held a series of meetings for residents of Sandy-pummeled areas to offer ideas. Sea Bright, which lost virtually its entire business district and saw hundreds of homes flooded, asked residents to suggest rebuilding projects and vote on which ones to pursue first. Belmar and Lake Como residents suggested ways to alleviate chronic flooding at a lake near the ocean. And a Rutgers University professor is conducting an online survey of what residents in Highlands, Sea Bright and Sayreville want their rebuilt communities to look like.
Toms River resident Bob Collis says his town needs to rebuild dunes that were washed away in the storm.
"We got hammered; we lost our houses," Collis said. "The first wave hits the beach, the second wave becomes higher, and there's nothing there to break it. There was nothing to stop it."
Jeff Coley said Toms River badly needs to replenish its beaches. Mike Roche suggested installing the type of flood control valves that some neighboring towns have.
"Island Heights has check valves that open and close," Roche said. "I ride my bike past them, and I can hear them opening and closing. If we had check valves, we might have had hardly any damage."
Roberts, the professional planner, said other suggestions included elevating vulnerable buildings and securing floating docks or removing them from the water altogether.
"In Keyport, they had floating docks that became battering rams," he said. "Boats, too. I don't think anyone would have expected boats to become projectiles. Is there a way to better secure these things?"
Absolutely, said Toms River resident Paul Jeffrey.
"One guy took his boat, put it on a trailer and buried the anchor in his front yard— and it worked," Jeffrey said.
In its 2020 project, Sea Bright asked residents to envision what their community should look like eight years after Sandy. Fifteen potential projects were identified.
"It included things like bulkheads, dunes and a repaired sea wall, a housing survey and an effort to rehabilitate the housing stock, and even some marketing and branding for Sea Bright," Mayor Dina Long said. "We had 50 people actively working on this for months. For me, it was super inspiring."
The ideas are also super expensive.
"The challenge now that we have all these wonderful ideas for projects is finding funding for them," Long said. "We're too tiny. We don't make the cut in cost-benefit analysis for grants like larger towns do, which is wrong. We're pretty much on our own."
So Sea Bright has been looking for partnerships with groups and companies. A Louisiana volunteer group has committed to rebuilding 100 homes in town, the University of Delaware is conducting a housing survey and Viacom is helping with branding and marketing efforts.
Rutgers University professor Clinton Andrews is conducting a survey of what storm-protection measures should be adopted in towns hit hard by Sandy. The survey, at www.RutgersPostSandySurvey.org, includes a series of photos and artist renderings of how buildings and streets would appear using specific rebuilding techniques and asks respondents if they favor mandatory buyouts of flood-prone areas.