STONE HARBOR – The Stone Harbor Property Owners Association (SHPOA) held its annual membership meeting June 11, with a series of presentations focused on island sustainability.
Earlier this year, SHPOA created a financial analysis around borough plans for long-term flood mitigation, which projected a potential increase in the borough’s property taxes of 46% over five years.
The analysis did not include potential grants and other infrastructure funds that might offset the use of tax revenue. It was not meant to be optimistic, but rather a wake-up call for the significant amount of capital spending that is going to be necessary to protect the island from rising seas and mitigate the flooding that puts property and the quality of life on the island at risk.
The June 11 meeting put more meat on the bones of that analysis. The gathered property owners, all with sizable investments in Stone Harbor, heard from Borough Engineer Marc DeBlasio, the borough’s coastal engineering consultant Douglas Gaffney, and their own Geoff Woolery, who coordinates the association’s sustainability efforts.
At the close of the meeting, questions that had been submitted in advance by the membership were put to Mayor Judith Davies-Dunhour and Borough Council President Reese Moore.
Over the course of the meeting, several sustainability issues were discussed.
Woolery started his discussion of dredging by reminding the audience of the borough’s unpleasant experience at its most recent dredging effort in 2017.
Allowing too many years of accumulation before tackling the project, the vast buildup of soils led to the use of innovative methods for dewatering before transfer off the island. The strategy was plagued with problems, causing the state to force a halt to work twice.
Costs were high, thousands of dump truck trips were required to move the sediment across bridges that had problems, and leaks at the dewatering sight, all made the project problematic from start to finish.
There was even prolonged litigation between the company hired for the effort and the borough.
Woolery said this would not be repeated because of regular monitoring of the bay and lagoon sediment levels, monitoring that will allow the borough to make an informed decision on when next to dredge.
Flood Mitigation Plan
DeBlasio provided an overview of the borough’s recently completed and adopted Flood Mitigation and Storm Sewer Master Plan.
As a way of providing conceptual insight for the lay audience, he organized the presentation in terms of preventive efforts, needed capital infrastructure improvements, and activities that preserve natural resources and contribute to strong relationships with federal and state agencies.
DeBlasio covered topics ranging from the borough’s bulkhead and lot grading ordinances to the engineering challenges involved in selecting the right bayside tide control strategy.
One prominent part of the flood plan is the need for expensive stormwater pump stations, the first of which is scheduled for construction at 93rd Street.
That project was discussed in a council meeting a few months ago when it carried a construction estimate of $11.5 million. At a recent council meeting, Moore informed the council that there was a revised engineering estimate that put the pump station at $19.1 million, a 66% increase. One major culprit in the raised estimate is the inflation in material costs.
Oceanfront Master Plan
Speaking about the current state of the borough’s beaches, Gaffney said, “The dunes are very successful,” adding that the borough was in a “very good position for storm protection.”
The problem, as Gaffney explained it, is that the beaches are no longer in equilibrium, meaning the right ratio of dry beach to dunes. He pointed to two specific problems in sea level rise and the lack of maintenance of aging and compromised jetties.
Gaffney spoke of two types of sediment transport, one that moves sand to the south and the other that brings sand to the beaches from deposit areas offshore.
In Stone Harbor, he noted, there is not enough sand being retained in the system, resulting in accelerated erosion. He termed it the “erosion appetite” for sand and the need to take steps to retain the sand on the beaches for longer periods, steps that he admitted could be expensive.
Covering the history of controversy over the use of Hereford Inlet sand for beach replenishment, Gaffney said that even when the borough gets a replenishment, the sand is not retained for as long as it could be due to deficiencies in structures along the oceanfront, like poorly maintained jetties.
According to Gaffney, the borough lost 62,000 cubic yards of sand during the winter months when prevailing conditions tend to move sand to the south. The now infamous Mother’s Day storm in May then stripped borough beaches of about 200,000 cubic yards more, leaving some badly eroded areas.
“A little bit has returned,” Gaffney added.
He then explained the feasibility study the borough has recently commissioned as an effort to consider multiple actions that might help stabilize the beaches.
The study would look at each with a cost-benefit eye. He said the numeric modeling that would be part of the analysis would also aid the borough in obtaining needed permits for actions they decide to take.
Q&A with Mayor and Councilman
During the question-and-answer period, Davies-Dunhour and Moore both emphasized the importance of beach and bay management as a priority of the municipal government.
Reiterating what Gaffney had said about the high price tag that may be attached to borough actions, both expressed cautious optimism that grants and low-interest loans may help offset taxpayer costs, along with plans to monetize some borough assets.
The reference to assets led Davies-Dunhour to voice her support for a plan termed Stone Harbor West, which calls for the purchase of land off the island for storage and some operations of the Public Works Department to free up the borough-owned high valuation land on the island that could be sold to help finance flood mitigation and beach or bay projects.
“I still think this is a very important idea we need to return to,” she said.
There was also talk of a “resort tax” as a new source of revenue, but the discussion showed little in-depth grasp of the opportunities for a state-authorized municipal occupancy tax already in place in Middle Township and Cape May.
In Cape May, it has just been extended to transient rental marketplaces, like those supported through online apps. Officials kept referring to a resort tax “or whatever you want to call it,” even though the option in front of the borough is very specific with respect to state law.
The discussion then veered off from resiliency to other topics of borough business, but the focus of the meeting was clear: How is Stone Harbor planning to deal with resiliency issues and how will it finance those efforts?
SHPOA organized the presentations as part of its ongoing effort to keep its members informed on issues of importance to the borough. The association has made the videos of the sustainability presentations available to members and non-members through its website.
To contact Vince Conti, email firstname.lastname@example.org.