Barnegat Inlet Storm Gate Draws Doubt at Business Forum

Public Comment on ‘Viable’ Idea Due April 1
Mar 20, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Businesses are urged to join a new Coastal Resiliency Committee to stay informed and have a say about the potential impact of coastal changes, including broad state/federal decisions that could affect them. The committee is being formed by the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber program “Coastal Resiliency: What Businesses Should Know,” attracted about 50 people to a March 13 meeting at The Mainland Holiday Inn in Manahawkin. Speakers referred to one dramatic proposal in particular – gatelike “storm surge barriers (inlet closures)” for flood protection at Barnegat Inlet, being considered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/N.J. Dept. of Environmental Protection in an interim New Jersey Back Bays Coastal Storm Risk Management Study.

The meeting also introduced a new section of the chamber website where documents such as the Army Corps/DEP report can be reached easily. On visitlbiregion.com, under the top heading “Chamber,” the link “Coastal Resiliency” is on the left.

Anyone who has never heard of the possibility of storm surge barriers in the inlet is not alone, even though a summary of the back-bay study came out in a public meeting last September (and was noted by The SandPaper).

Rick Bushnell, president of ReClam the Bay, was one speaker at the chamber meeting who said that by joining the chamber’s new Coastal Resiliency Committee, business leaders could be “better prepared for” such news and could comment on its impacts both economically and environmentally.

Otherwise, Bushnell said, plans on big projects such as this can advance far and the state and federal agencies can point to dates when hearings and studies were presented, saying the public had a chance to learn then.

The public comment deadline is indeed soon. The online report says the general public and stakeholders are invited to provide comments by April 1. Comments can be sent by email: PDPA-NAP@usace.army.mil or in writing to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning Division, Wanamaker Building, 100 Penn Square East, Philadelphia, Pa. 19107.

The Corps/DEP Interim Report lists the barriers as one of the “alternative plans that manage risk and reduce damages from coastal storms.”

Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Steven Rochette said when contacted this week, “The interim report outlines a focused array of potential alternatives that reduce the risk of back-bay flooding. One of these alternatives includes a storm surge barrier at Barnegat Inlet.”

Among a few people commenting at the chamber meeting, Karen Larson of Barnegat Light said she keeps up on related news but “I didn’t hear anything about Barnegat Light” regarding the proposed inlet gate alternative. She said there is “just no way” the proposal could be viable, with the boats that come in and out of Barnegat Light.

“You can only fight Mother Nature to a certain degree, and a gate is not going to work in Barnegat Inlet,” she said.

“It actually makes no sense,” added Beach Haven Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis, who had spoken at the meeting about open space projects that are absorbing localized flooding. “I’m concerned, living at the other end of the Island. They can’t put a gate on Little Egg Inlet, or Beach Haven Inlet. So how is this going to affect the water moving in to the back-bay areas? ... They basically are saying it only will be closed in major storm events, like a Sandy. But I still think it’s insane. And the cost of it; if they took that money and committed it to living shorelines, I think we would move ahead a lot quicker in this area.”

The interim report states, “Preliminary results of the modeling and screening analyses indicate that storm surge barriers are viable options at Manasquan Inlet, Barnegat Inlet, Absecon Inlet, and/or Great Egg Harbor Inlet.”

Rochette also summarized, “Storm surge barriers typically involve gate-type mechanisms that remain open during normal conditions and that close during impending storm event conditions to prevent storm surges from entering the areas behind the barriers. ... A conceptual design includes an impermeable barrier with navigable sector gates in the middle, which would remain open during normal conditions.”

He added, “Storm surge barriers ... reduce the need for additional measures like floodwalls behind them; however, they are designed to reduce risk for events with significant storm surge and would not have much impact for frequent or ‘nuisance’ flooding events.”

The back-bay study is not the only topic covered by the chamber’s Coastal Resiliency link. A third speaker at the chamber meeting was Amy Williams of Stevens Institute and N.J. Sea Grant Consortium, who presented online tools for businesses that includes mapping, tidal tracking and news. These tools can be found at the chamber link.

The proposed inlet barrier possibility got much interest from the audience, but other topics were also involved. The chamber program aimed to look into “how all businesses including retail/dining, recreational and professional services can use resources to understand potential impact of coastal changes,” organizers had said.

The goal was “an overview of what projects are currently underway and how to stay informed so positive solutions are developed.”

The Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce office can be reached at 609-494-7211.

— Maria Scandale

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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