By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – A multimillion-dollar federal project, slated to begin in the coming months, could provide much needed flood protection for an area of the township hard hit by Super Storm Sandy.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it has signed an agreement with state officials, allowing the corps to move forward with the Port Monmouth flood control project, a long planned but never realized project for an area that fronts the Raritan Bay.
“It is a hugely important project,” said Anthony Mercantante, township administrator, noting the area of Port Monmouth, was “clearly the most significantly damaged neighborhood in the township” during the October 2012 storm.
The Army Corps of Engineers will oversee the two-stage plan. Contracts for the first phase are expected to be signed by late spring and it is hoped that work will begin on the initial portion of the project during the summer or early fall, according to Christopher Gardner, a corps spokesman.
The project’s first leg will be replenishing the beach along that area, much of it across from Port Monmouth Road, and adding sand dunes there, Mercantante and Gardner said.
The plans also call for building stone groins to run perpendicular to the beach and extending into the bay. The groins, Gardner said, help manage the movement of sediment and sand.
That first stage also will include repairing and extending the fishing pier at Monmouth County’s Bayshore Waterfront Park. The pier has been unusable since the storm, Mercantante said.
The project’s second phase, the more far-reaching part of the project, will involve building a series of levees, floodwalls and pumping stations. There will be road closure and storm gates and the installation of interior drainage in some of the areas along with wetland mitigation and the raising of a portion of roadway in the vicinity of Compton Creek.
Cost estimates ranged from $100 million to $110 million and, according to Mercantante, will take about six years to complete.
The area always has been prone to flooding, even from high tides and heavy rains, Mercantante said.
The second portion of the project will offer real relief to property owners because flooding, which during storms can overwhelm storm drains, is usually from Compton and Pew creeks and the wetlands, the township business administrator said.
A few years ago the municipality installed a floodgate for part of the area, which offered some help, but not nearly enough, he said.
The nature and scope of the project is very similar to what the Army Corps did some years back for the area of North Middletown, bordering Keansburg, overlooking the bay. That was so effective that even during Sandy no flooding occurred, Mercantante said.
“If this levee system works like the other works, it will make a huge difference,” he said.
There were probably 700 to 800 houses in that area Port Monmouth, on the eastern “wet side” of Highway 36, damaged by Sandy and flooding, Mercantante said. In the entire township, there were about 296 houses that were deemed “substantially damaged,” meaning they sustained damage greater than 50 percent of value, Mercantante noted. “The majority of those were in Port Monmouth” with some in Belford and Leonardo.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been working on the many parts of the project since 2000 with the issue of funding always hovering over it, Gardner said. But, when Congress passed the 2013 Disaster Relief Act, the “Sandy Bill,” there was money earmarked for such projects with the federal funding covering the project’s total cost, he said.
The corps is planning to conduct a series of public input sessions for the project, likely to be held in March, Mercantante said.