Signage program aims to raise flood awareness
By Joseph Sapia
On a beautiful Shore day – sunny, about 75 degrees and breezy – various government officials came together to show the flip side of this kind of weather.
“Most days are going to be like this,” said Gary Szatkowski, the recently retired chief meteorologist of the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly. “(But) there are days it’s going to be dangerous along the Shore.”
Szatkowski was one of the representatives of various branches of government – federal, Monmouth County and municipal – kicking off a program of placing signs in the county that show the high-water marks of October 2012’s Super Storm Sandy. The storm left tidal-water towns in the county under many feet of water.
The project was kicked off in a ceremony Monday, June 27, at New York Waterway’s ferry terminal in the Belford section of Middletown. That was where the first sign went up.
Under the “High Water Mark Initiative,” 100 signs – in two sizes, 18 inches by 24 inches and 9 inches by 12 inches – will go up in 14 municipalities and at Naval Weapons Station Earle and Sandy Hook. The 14 towns are Middletown, Atlantic Highlands, Sea Bright, Monmouth Beach, Oceanport, Rumson, Hazlet, Keansburg, Aberdeen, Ocean, Neptune, Avon, Belmar and Manasquan.
Another 150 signs – actually tags 2 inches by 4 inches – will be placed on Verizon telephone company utility poles.
Not only are the signs a reminder of the past, but they have a practical ingredient – a component of the federal Community Rating System (CRS) for flood awareness. Municipalities participating in the CRS can get lower costs for federally backed flood insurance for their residences and businesses. Municipalities participating in the CRS have already saved $1.3 million in flood insurance costs, said Serena DiMaso, a member of the county Board of Freeholders.
“It’s going to provide information, where the township flood level was as a reminder,” said Middletown Mayor Gerard P. Scharfenberger, speaking of the signs. “I think the more information you give, it benefits.”
Scharfenberger said the signs also can help with planning for future flooding.
“From a local perspective, this is what we really need to prepare,” Scharfenberger said.
“This initiative will constantly reinforce the message it can happen again,” said county Sheriff Shaun Golden, whose office includes the Office of Emergency Management.
The project cost $6,000, which was supplied through a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant. Participation of towns was voluntary, Golden said.
While most realize there is a likelihood of future serious storms, many do not think there is a flooding risk, said Mike Moriarty, director of mitigation at the New York City regional office of FEMA.
“We want to re-enforce for wind, elevate for water and prepare ourselves financially,” Moriarity said.
Or as Szatkowski put it – not if, but when, it floods again.
“We know it’s going to flood again,” Szatkowski said.
“People like to remember good and happy things. They don’t like to remember when the water came up,” said DiMaso, who is the freeholder-liaison to county Emergency Management.
Officials talked about people perhaps looking at the signs as a negative.
“There are residents concerned how it’s going to affect property values, but FEMA (flood zone) maps (already) take care of that,” said Atlantic Highlands Mayor Rhonda C. Le Grice.
At Naval Weapons Station Earle, for example, Sandy caused $50 million in damage, said Capt. Jay M. Steingold, Earle’s commanding officer.
Tony MacDonald, director of the Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute, said coastal areas should think about “building wiser and smarter and, maybe, not building at all.”
Monmouth University surveyed locales to determine placement of the signs.
“I think this is a great step in the right direction,” said Szatkowski, adding the National Weather Service has been supportive of this type of project. “This will help people understand what can happen, what they need to be prepared for. These signs will help people visualize.”
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