NJ Residents Watching Homes Wash Away

$2M state-built sea wall collapsing, threatening homes

The people of Sea Breeze were drawn here because of the community’s picturesque location along the Delaware Bay. But now the bay is driving waves of anxiety into the tiny, isolated strip of homes in Cumberland County, N.J.

“A couple more storms, we’re going to be out of our all properties,” Sea Breeze homeowner Jim Patitucci told NBC 10 News Thursday. He is among the owners of eighteen houses here who worry Fairfield Township’s Sea Breeze section will soon be no more.

A nearly $2 million sea wall constructed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to safeguard the homes from the water began to collapse not long after it was completed less than two years ago. The churning bay has continued to undermine the barrier.

“The water breaks over this bulkhead, erodes this road,” Patitucci said, pointing to the eroded wall. “Sooner or later, [the wall] is going to wash out and we’re not going to be able to get to our homes.”

D.E.P. officials admitted Thursday the wall has not been as stable as they would have liked it to be. However, they also insisted it has provided much more protection than the piles of concrete rubble it replaced.

“We want the state to come in and fix the mess up,” Patitucci said.

But state officials said all responsibility falls on the township, which owns the wall.

“We can’t win against mother nature,” said Mayor Marion Kennedy, Jr. (D-Fairfield Township).

In addition, the mayor said Fairfield simply cannot afford to spend millions of dollars on repairs or a replacement barrier.

“We’re poor, I’m sorry to say. We’re very poor and we just can’t do it. We have 75-hundred people that live in the Township that’s 46 square miles and to put that on our residents would be very unfair,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy urged the homeowners to work out buy-out deals with the D.E.P. But many said they want to stay.

“We love it here and we don’t want to leave, but it looks like that’s what’s going to happen to us,” said homeowner Robert Spence.

So for now, the only thing making a move remains the Delaware Bay, the same body of water people here love, that is threatening to wipe Sea Breeze off the map.

“They turned their back on us and left us with nothing. They’re not coming back,” Patitucci said.

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