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New Wildwood Crest Bulkhead Ordinance Draws Questions From a Reader

Christopher South
Wildwood Crest residents with bayfront homes will eventually have to raise their bulkhead to comply with a recently passed ordinance. This might pose a problem for homeowners who have built decks over the bulkhead.

By Christopher South

WILDWOOD CREST – A property owner in Wildwood Crest contacted the Herald and asked two questions related to the new bulkhead ordinance introduced by the Wildwood Crest Board of Commissioners.

He said property owners are certainly concerned about street flooding on the bay side of the borough but are also concerned about the cost involved with raising bulkheads, particularly if there are existing decks built over the bulkhead.

A Herald reader asked how raising the height of bulkheads will affect homeowners with decks that extend over the bulkhead. Photo Credit: Christopher South

The first question posed was the deadline for raising bulkheads attached to private property. According to Mayor Don Cabrera, there is no specific deadline spelled out in Ordinance 1412, adopted Nov. 21, but the borough is taking a cue from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which recommends bulkheads be raised to 8 feet North American Vertical Datum 1988 by 2050.

“Based on that we are looking at having that be our goal – to have all bulkheads raised by that time frame,” Cabrera said.

The current minimum bulkhead height is 6 feet 7 inches, but the borough decided to go along with the federal recommendation and raise the level to 8 feet. Cabrera said that leaves a 26-year time frame for raising bulkheads, which is subject to change by ordinance.

He said there is also talk at the federal level of raising the minimum height of bulkheads to 9 feet NAVD. In addition, Cabrera said the requirement for raising a bulkhead could depend on the owner’s plans for the property. If the owner plans to make improvements that are 50% of the home’s value, they would have to raise the bulkhead to 8 feet.

The mayor said the federal recommendations are also tied to flood insurance. A municipality’s Community Rating System discount for flood insurance can be affected by compliance with federal recommendations or regulations. The CRS system is voluntary, but the rating, from Class 1 to Class 10, provides for up to a 45% premium reduction.

As of Oct. 1, Avalon had the highest rating in the county, at Class 3 for a 35% premium discount. Ocean City and Sea Isle City are at Class 4 for a 30% discount. Cape May, Upper Township and Wildwood have a Class 5, 25% discount; North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest have a Class 6, 20% discount; Cape May Point, Lower Township and Stone Harbor are at Class 7 for a 15% discount. West Wildwood is at Class 10, which receives no flood insurance premium discount.

The second question concerned decks built over a bulkhead. Cabrera said any homeowner who wants to build a deck over a bulkhead would have to get a Coastal Area Facility Review Act permit, have an engineer’s design and have the borough sign off on the project.

“Whatever they have has to be approved by the state, and the borough engineer signs off as well,” he said.

The mayor added that the borough is not close to the point of requiring every homeowner to raise their bulkhead, but down the road if raising bulkheads is required, people will have to address problems such as decks then.

“Now we’re allowing some flexibility, and we’re not going to mandate it now. (2050) is 26 years away,” he said.

Cabrera said homeowners should know the deadline is out there and should financially plan for it.

The mayor also said there are private bulkheads attached to municipal bulkheads, and when the borough raises its bulkheads, it will probably affect some improvements private homeowners made illegally, such as pavers, steps and gates. He said they might have to be removed, and the homeowner would have to put them back.

Attractive improvements made by homeowners could be affected by Wildwood Crest’s street-end bulkhead upgrades. Homeowners would likely have to absorb the cost of damage to improvements made in the right of way. Photo Credit: Christopher South

The borough, which is seeking to hold back water from the bay to prevent it from pooling at the street ends, is considering raising some street levels. Cabrera said both the intrusion of water through bulkheads and the pooling of water in the streets can lead to deterioration and washouts at the street ends.

“We’re trying to get it all buttoned up,” he said.

The plan is to replace multiple layers of bulkhead, which might include wood, concrete and plastic, with a single concrete bulkhead, which will also improve the appearance. Cabrera said the borough had engineers survey the areas and will notify people when it will begin doing work on the street.

Contact the author, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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