Project marks how high water can reach in Monmouth County

Eric Sucar

By Kenny Walter
Staff Writer

MIDDLETOWN- As many as 100 signs marking where the superstorm Sandy waters reached will be placed throughout Monmouth County in an effort to educate the public on just how high the water could reach during a storm event.

During a June 27 press conference at the Belford Ferry Terminal, several officials marked the beginning of the High Water Mark Initiative.

“Anyone who was in office during the time of Sandy knows the worst part was the unpredictability,” Middletown Mayor Gerald Scharfenberger said. “We didn’t know how bad it was going to get, where it was really going to hit, and this sort of thing gives us the predictability.

“It is the benchmark that we need to be able to prepare and remind people to know where the vulnerable areas are and know what they have to do to avoid any real damage. I think the most important thing is to have people informed and prepared going forward.”

As many as 100 High Water Mark (HWM) signs will be installed in prominent locations within participating municipalities. The signs aim to focus attention on the effects of flood waters in the area. The goal of the program is to ensure that the public remains diligent about taking long-term actions to protect themselves, their property and their communities, and brings an added bonus of lowering flood insurance premiums for homeowners.

Municipal participation is voluntary and is being offered at no cost to every municipality in Monmouth County, regardless of their Community Rating System (CRS) status. Participating municipalities will earn additional CRS program points for greater flood risk awareness, and consequently, lower the cost of flood insurance for residents.

“Fourteen Monmouth County towns have joined the High Water Mark Initiative. These towns have made a commitment to improving their resiliency to future storms and in the process reduced flood insurance premiums for their residents,” said Freeholder Deputy Director Serena DiMaso, liaison to the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

The HWM signs are part of a countywide collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and its High Water Mark Initiative.  The HWM Initiative is a community-based awareness program that sets its sights on increasing local communities’ awareness of flood risk and encourages action to mitigate the risk.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Region II Administrator Michael Moriarty said a recent study showed three out of 10 local residents do not believe they are at a risk for flood damage and the initiative is intended to eliminate some of the misconceptions.

“It shows foremost where the water was during the last major event,” he said. “We have to be aware that there is a likelihood of future events.

“Between climate change and sea level rise, we can expect significant damage in the future. The high water mark allows us to be aware of our risk.”

Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden said the project was part of a county-wide initiative to help prepare residents for the next storm.

“The county office of emergency management, along with all of the offices of emergency management throughout the county, particularly our 22 towns along the coastline, lead the way in response to the storm and now continues to be a leader in implementing many initiatives to ensure the safety and well being of residents and businesses in Monmouth County,” he said. “This initiative will constantly reinforce the message that yes it can happen again and yes we all need to be prepared.”

Representatives of Aberdeen, Atlantic Highlands, Hazlet, Middletown, Monmouth Beach, Rumson and Sea Bright appeared at the press conference.

U.S. Navy Capt. Jay Steingold, who is stationed at nearby Naval Weapons Station Earle, said the Navy is also taking steps to prevent storm damage, including increasing drainage capabilities, creating living shorelines and enhancing storm marshes at the weapons base.

“Alongside the civilian residents here in Monmouth County, the Navy is cognizant of the impact the increasingly frequent and powerful storms like Sandy and Irene are having on our New Jersey shoreline,” he said. “Responding to Mother Nature the Department of Defense has established a roadmap to meet these challenges.”

The HWM Initiative is made possible through a partnership with the Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute, New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, National Park Service, Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve at Rutgers University, Navy Weapons Station Earle, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Verizon.

Aberdeen, Atlantic Highlands, Avon, Belmar, Hazlet, Keansburg, Manasquan, Middletown, Monmouth Beach, Neptune, Ocean Township, Oceanport, Rumson and Sea Bright are currently participating in the NFIP High Water Mark Initiative, along with Naval Weapons Station Earle and the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook.

Monmouth County is in the process of developing signs and identifying locations to be used in each community at their discretion.