By John Montone, 1010 WINS
Sea Bright is beautiful. But how long will Sea Bright even be?
A week after superstorm Sandy, as I came over the Azzolino Bridge looking straight out at the Atlantic Ocean with the Navasink and Shrewsbury Rivers visible through my passenger side window, I thought and then reported, “This town drowned.” No exaggeration. The water was 11-feet high on Mayor Dina Long’s block. The seawall couldn’t hold back the ocean and the bulkheads were no match for the raging rivers.
One year ago the mayor and I walked the beach and she told me that the town which had been 100% evacuated with two-thirds of its homes unlivable, was coming back. Some businesses were open, although most of Ocean Avenue’s shops and eateries remained boarded up.
This week I returned. At the Sea Bright Supermarket I was told that construction workers buying lunch and not tourists buying beer were keeping the place afloat. And at Giglio’s Bait and Tackle, Ernie Giglio said blues, stripers and flukes are running.
After my lame joke that every fish I catch is a fluke, Ernie said that after cleaning four feet of water from his store he suffered through a financially dry summer. But already this spring fisherman are out on the river and ocean and casting out from the beach. That great Jersey Shore bar, Donovan’s, hasn’t been rebuilt but its Tiki Bar on the beach will be open this summer and the mayor believes the bar itself isn’t far behind.
It’s Dina Long’s job to be a cheerleader for her town. And as we talked on a wooden platform higher than the sea wall, she pointed out the freshly-painted buildings and rebuilt homes. Turning to the east she told me that sand from the Army Corp of Engineers and natural shrubs buried in the dunes made the shoreline a lot stronger than it was before the great storm. Bigger bulkheads are coming too, she said. But when I asked her if a spaghetti-thin strip of land like her home town could hope to survive the 21st century, she said, “That’s an uncomfortable question,” and finally, “No comment.”
I understand. If an elected executive said, “This sandbar is toast. In 20 years Ocean Ave will be part of the ocean,” local homes would be worth about as much as a clam shell after a seagull makes off with the meat.
But it’s a legitimate question and one that millions of people living close to the sea must consider, myself included. The ageless beauty, Mary Montone and I, own a house built on pilings near the bay on LBI. We mucked out the muddy remains of 3½ feet of water from our garage. Neighbors whose homes were built on grade lost everything.
But if driving over the Causeway Bridge onto our sandbar and breathing the briny air and feeling sand between our toes are our happiest moments, then there is a temptation to believe that maybe all those scientists are wrong and the oceans will not rise so much. Or maybe we will develop a system of dykes to divert future storm surges, or maybe the rebuilt beaches and bulkheads will hold back the sea.
Or maybe not. Which is why Mayor Long found the question so, “Uncomfortable.”