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Question Remains: How to Protect Highlands?

Written by The Two River Times. Posted in Front Page, News

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Question Remains: How to Protect Highlands?

Published on September 13, 2013 with No Comments

By John Burton

Meeting to be held in October

HIGHLANDS – Mayor Frank Nolan knows something has to be done in the borough to prevent it from further flooding and damage similar to what occurred with Super Storm Sandy.

But the mayor finds himself at odds with the U.S. Army Corps of Engin­eers over what that plan should be.

A town hall meeting is expected to be held in early October by the corps and Nolan during which the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to make public its assessments for corrective action, according to David Gentile, the corps’ High­lands project manager.

Following the devastating effects of last October’s storm, the corps and borough officials are looking at various options that will hopefully prevent a reoccurrence for the traditionally flood-prone Bayshore community.

The corps proposal won’t work, the mayor said, and the corps has dismissed one of the solutions Nolan has proposed, an admittedly ambitious plan to elevate all of the structures situated in the borough’s low-lying area.

Nolan said the corps recently recommended a plan that advocated building a high retaining wall at the bulkhead along Marine Place, which faces the water and runs parallel to Bay Avenue, the borough’s main thoroughfare populated by businesses and homes.

The problem, Nolan said, is that most of Bay Avenue is below sea level. When there is an exceptional high tide, heavy rains or a combination, “we don’t flood from the bulkhead to the main road,” Nolan said. The area generally floods from the bulkhead to Bay Avenue with water rising from storm drains and sewers.

A 15- or 16-foot wall along the shoreline “would create a bathtub effect,” trapping floodwater in the area, Nolan contended.

Another problem with something like that, he said, was that it would be aesthetically unpleasing and would diminish property value. First and foremost, he said, “It doesn’t fix our problem.”

The retaining wall remedy was the corps’ assessment from its 2009 feasibility study, which corps representatives have agreed to reassess, Nolan said.

However, the corps’ Gentile, said recently that the Army Corps is “leaning toward” the wall option. Army engineers are looking at additional facets to the plan, which would include more pump stations and check valves to eliminate that effect, according to Gentile.

“We would want (the Army Corps of Engineers) to consider multiple options,” Nolan said.

The mayor said one option that should be discussed is the viability of lifting all of the structures located in the lower portion of the borough. Preliminary number crunching has Nolan believing it would cost somewhere around $200 million and could be effectively done, as was done to much of Galveston Island, Texas, more than 100 years ago following a devastating hurricane.

Since this idea was first floated, Nolan said he has heard from engineers and scientists from Japan and the Netherlands who offered their ideas about how best to do it, if the project gets approval.

The corps, however, has rejected that proposal, based upon its cost-effective analysis. The cost would be too high in comparison to the value of what it would be saving, Gentile said.

The current total property value in Highlands stands at $575 million, according to Nolan. So far, the borough has seen a 7 percent loss of ratables with Sandy-damaged and closed businesses.

“That doesn’t even include homes that are abandoned,” after the storm, Nolan said. He believes that when abandoned homes are factored into the equation, the loss in ratables is actually more than 30 percent.

The upside of elevating sections of the borough, Nolan argued, would result in increases in property values because homes would be protected from flooding. It also would likely result in a flow of money into the community from businesses and developers, he said.

“We know we have to do something,” Nolan said. “We definitely know there is something happening with the climate.”

Nolan acknowledged the elevation idea may be radical – maybe too radical for many – but he believes the corps’ idea is a non-starter.

“We’re hoping they’re going to look outside the box and not just at walls.”

In the meantime, the borough council has bonded for $4.5 million for work on its sewer system and pump stations, Nolan said.

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