Superstorm Sandy happened 10 years ago last week. The American Institute of Architects New Jersey Chapter (AIA New Jersey) joins our state in reflecting on Superstorm Sandy and remembering the lessons learned. Our members have assisted residents throughout New Jersey, guiding and advising them step by step through the long rebuilding process. All New Jerseyans have learned about the destruction that can be caused by a powerful storm.
Our incoming Strategic Council Representative, Verity Frizzell, FAIA, earned her fellowship for her courageous and dedicated emergency service to her community in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. She reflects here on where we are today.
“It has been 10 years since Superstorm Sandy swept through New Jersey and surrounding areas. While there have been more devastating storms since then, this was the largest to hit our area in recent memory. It caused billions of dollars of damage, displaced thousands of people and changed lives forever. Arguably the hardest-hit area was Mantoloking, a small town on the barrier island in central New Jersey, located where Sandy made landfall. Of the 536 residences in town, 52 were completely washed away, 125 were so severely damaged that they had to be demolished, and every property was flooded. The Atlantic Ocean met the Barnegat Bay in three places in Mantoloking. Many oceanfront lots remained empty for years after, only being rebuilt in the last year or two. But are we building back better? Building codes and zoning ordinances have improved since then, requiring residences to be elevated above the FEMA base flood elevation, which was raised immediately after Sandy. All new homes have flood vents to allow floodwaters to enter and exit without damaging the structure, and hurricane straps which run from the roof to the foundation to prevent the roof from blowing off. Commercial buildings can be dry floodproofed. Wind bracing requirements have been simplified so walls can be braced without a detailed, complicated engineering analysis. Building on pilings is becoming more common, and almost every project requires a soil boring to determine the bearing capacity. “Coastal towns have made improvements to address their infrastructure deficiencies since Sandy. They have hardened their utilities, improved storm water systems and installed pumping stations. They have more robust emergency management plans in place and have made provisions for maintaining records and preventing flood damage losses. We have done as much as we reasonably can, and most towns look much the same as they did before Sandy, just higher off the ground.
“We are definitely building stronger, but I’m not sure we are building smarter. People forget how easily it was all washed away. Prices of oceanfront property have skyrocketed, and people understandably want to maximize their investment. They are buying lots for millions of dollars and building as large as they can, new structures which are all susceptible to the next superstorm. The barrier island is still a fragile ecosystem that is subject to erosion and accretion from ocean tides and storms. The primary dune has been fortified with rock revetments and steel bulkheads, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performed a beach replenishment down the entire coastline of New Jersey, but it only lasted until the first N’oreaster came through and sat off the coast for three days, scouring all the sand back into the ocean. In a perfect world, maybe we wouldn’t have built back on the barrier island and let nature do its thing, but that’s not very realistic. Property values are too high and the tourism industry at the shore is too valuable. I think we have done the best we can to build back better and stronger. Only time — and the next hurricane — will tell.”
AIA New Jersey stands ready to apply our members’ knowledge, experience and creativity to be build a more resilient New Jersey. We design buildings, every day, that fight the effects of climate change. We create and integrate storm-hardened and energy-efficient features that protect the health, safety and welfare of New Jersey residents everywhere from our shoreline to our mountain and river ecosystems.
Our experts can answer questions, provide quotes, explain rebuilding and have access to successful rebuilt projects along the Jersey Shore and in inland communities. We are at your service. Find us at www.aia-nj.org.