SPRING LAKE — Jennifer Naughton, who has served as mayor since 2006, recently recalled the preparation for and impact of Superstorm Sandy 10 years ago.
“I’m not sure that anyone could have prepared for a storm like that. We had never seen one like that before, and I hope we never see another one in the future,” she said.
Prior to the storm strike, the borough invited residents to fill up sandbags, a measure that “probably didn’t do a lot of good.”
Borough officials had information on where flooding was going to be the worst, allowing them to evacuate residents in the area. Most residents heeded that warning, important for their own safety and that of first responders.
All equipment was pulled off the beach, and pumps were placed in Wreck Pond in anticipation of flooding. When the storm struck, the ocean cut over the dunes and flooded into the pond.
A plan was created overnight by the administrators, police department and public works officials and implemented by early morning: the town was closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
“You can make it through the storm, but can you stay in your home without electricity, and a third of the town, without water?”
“We had so many downed trees… so many flooded properties, and a lot of really dark homes. We just felt we could never begin, let alone make progress, on the cleanup if we had people coming in looking at the damage to the town and the ocean.”
“I am a firm believer that you can never be completely prepared for a storm like that. Our friends in Florida went through that recently and I don’t know how much they could have done except do what their governor said and evacuate… I think if you get out of a storm with nobody losing their life and being seriously injured, we have to consider that a huge success regardless of the damage to property.”
Improvements to prep for future storms
Like other surrounding towns, Spring Lake turned to efforts to mitigate future damage.
The southern edge of town is lower than the north end, so flooding is more likely to occur. As a result, five entrances from the street to the boardwalk were raised. Dune growth was encouraged and stairs now allow people to walk up and over the dunes to get to the beach.
“The water would have to reach the height of the dune to come over… So we feel that’s safer,” Mayor Naughton said.
Dune growth was also encouraged at Pier Beach on Brown Avenue.
A larger, second pipe was added to carry water out of Wreck Pond. This pipe now also extends farther out into the ocean.
“It allows us to do two things: First, to empty the pond much faster when it overflows. And in the advance of the storm, to close the entrance to the pipes during a storm. But you still get rain water,” the mayor said.
The Lake Como side of town also flooded, and the lake’s outfall pipe was damaged during the storm. Afterward, the borough of Belmar, on the other side of the lake, received a grant to install a new pipe that takes water out from Lake Como to the ocean.
“It was a huge project. We got help from the federal government and a number of other agencies…”
“We look at it as our responsibility to do everything we can in terms of our infrastructure.”
The South End Pavilion was extensively damaged, but the public works department was able to rebuild for the upcoming season, with bathrooms, showers and an office.
Plans in place to replace the North End Pavilion were challenged by a homeowner. That building was supposed to have been demolished and there would have been a “huge hole in the ground [after Sandy] that would have been disastrous for that area,” the mayor said.
Eventually, the pavilion was replaced with a new one that resembles the old one.
“There wasn’t a board left on the boardwalk. There wasn’t a railing left… Ocean Avenue looked like a beach.”
Pieces of boardwalk were found as high as a second floor, with sand caked in everywhere.
The new boardwalk and railings were installed in sections so if a section is destroyed, “it wouldn’t take the whole boardwalk with it. They’re meant to break off in pieces now.”
Pier Beach Pavilion was wiped out and looked like “a pile of match sticks.”
Subsequently, a decision was made to not build back.
“Our thought was these storms, they used to be every 25 to 30 years, but they’re going to come perhaps more frequently and more strong.”
“We would have been nowhere without our DPW, without our police. I mean, think about it – three weeks without power, without our police and our fire department trying to help people whose houses were flooded, trying to remove debris. They set up a comfort station where people could come to get warm… it snowed…”
“I was driving around with our borough administrator and chief of police, and we were just shaking our heads… DPW had started to work but there was just so much to be done.”
A few residents put out a call for volunteers to help remove debris from the beach and people’s yards.
“And hundreds of people showed up for days. It was amazing… hundreds of people.”
Whole families came from Spring Lake or surrounding towns to help, although DPW had to do most of the heavy lifting with their equipment.
“They took I-don’t-even-know-how-many pounds of wood off the beach, debris. It was a pretty remarkable thing to see a community come together like that.”
This is an excerpt of the print article. For more on this story, read The Coast Star—on newsstands Thursday or online in our e-Edition.