The iconic Jersey Shore, known for idyllic beaches, great family vacations, salt-water taffy and boardwalk memories has had a rough year, to say the least.
Instead of a place for relaxing and enjoying fun in the sun, on October 29, 2012, the Atlantic Ocean became the enemy, fueled unmercifully by Hurricane Sandy, a superstorm that caused unimaginable destruction.
And as Shore communities struggled to rebuild, obstacles and red tape got in the way. But summer came and New Jersey Governor Christie declared that the Shore was open for business. People showed up in droves to show support, both in spirit and with their wallets.
One year later, things are slowly progressing and a new normal is taking shape for those who call the Jersey Shore home. And while some Shore communities are years away from being completely rebuilt, there are signs of new life up and down the shore. But one of those communities also suffered a serious setback that was indirectly caused by Sandy, months after the water receded.
On September 12th, a fire ripped through businesses along a newly rebuilt section of the Seaside Heights boardwalk, just blocks from the site where that iconic image of the JetStar Roller Coaster sitting in the Atlantic Ocean was burned into our memories after Sandy. Six full blocks of newly rebuilt oceanfront boardwalk and businesses were charred beyond recognition in a horrific blaze that investigators later revealed was caused by electrical wiring exposed to Sandy’s salt water. It was a one-two punch for Seaside but the community vows to rebuild yet again.
It’s a sad scenario that begs the question: should we be building so close to the ocean in the first place? Sarah Monzón is a series producer for This Old House and her take is that it’s probably too late to go backwards. But going forward, there’s certainly a lot to consider.
SARAH: Well, the shore is developed and people are never going to want to live away from the water; they’re always going to want to live here. I was told yesterday that 50 percent of the population of our country lives within 50 miles of the water. And that’s the way it’s always been. It’s just that that 50 percent now represents a heck of a lot more people.
So, we have to think about building smart and sustainably and not just building willy-nilly and not just building thinking it’s only going to last a few years. It’s a waste of money any other way than to build smart. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
TOM: This Old House is trying to help. This past summer, the program filmed their 34th season right here at the Jersey Shore, telling the stories of three victims as they rebuilt their storm-damaged homes and educating millions of viewers that, as Governor Christie likes to say, it’s possible to be stronger than the storm.
The homes featured were built to stand up to future storms. And the architectural design, engineering and technology highlighted on the program provided inspiration and insight to those who have yet been able to start rebuilding their own homes.
SARAH: It’s our job to provide best practices. The guys on the show have been doing it for a third of a century. And they really know what they’re talking about. We’re trying to remain as impartial and as neutral as we can, tell the story as it’s happening without injecting our coulda-shoulda-wouldas. And that’s our goal.
TOM: For some Shore communities, it’s private, oceanfront property that needs to be protected. And a group of homeowners in Bay Head are doing just that. Without federal or state aid, they’re using their own funds. They brought large boulders in from Pennsylvania and hired a crew to create a revetment system they hope will prevent the sea from breaching their homes in the future.
This Old House Master Carpenter Norm Abram was on hand during the project and explains how it works.
NORM: Well, revetment is a way that you can sort of minimize the damage from huge seas. And a lot of people think seawalls are the solution but seawalls don’t work because they get undermined and then they collapse.
A revetment is kind of a clever solution. What they do is they dig down to a particular depth, usually related to the tide. And then they put in a fabric liner and then they bring in – in this case, they had to bring in from Pennsylvania big, huge boulders. And they’re put together like a puzzle and they have to be very carefully placed. And the total of the wall in the one I was looking at, I believe, was going to be about 23 feet high. And the front side that faces the ocean is a very low slope, a very low angle rather than a vertical wall. And then they covered the whole thing with sand.
And what happens is when a storm comes through and those big waves are crashing – I mean we were told they had 30-foot waves coming through here. What it does is instead of that wave crashing into a wall, when it hits the slope, it slows it down so that it sort of – it takes the energy out of the wave as it’s approaching the shore. In a lot of cases, that’s all you need to sort of stop a lot of severe damage.
TOM: Jed and Chris Laird have a home not too far from the revetment project. And even though they were advised to tear down their home or even to just walk away, they decided to raise it and rebuild the bottom floor, which was completely flood-damaged. Like many, the memories here were just too difficult to give up.
CHRIS: We got married on the beach in Bay Head. We had the reception in our backyard. And our two children have grown up here and they paint seashells and sell them. And they just sit on the front porch and paint.
And we just love everything about our house because it’s not a McMansion; it’s just a quaint, old, Jersey Shore beach house. And it’s just so many memories.
TOM: Rita Gurry lives just north of Bay Head, in Manasquan. Ready for a new phase of life, she had just paid off her home and was looking forward to enjoying mortgage-free years. Now, she’s starting all over again with a new mortgage and a brand-new, prefabricated home built safely high off the ground.
RITA: You know, I can actually visualize – I can visualize that this is just – this is like hope. From day one to today, from the destruction to the construction to the actual implementation and the setting of my house today, I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve got my life back.