The town is called Highlands, New Jersey, but its downtown blocks are actually a little on the low side. It doesn’t take a hurricane to flood city streets: a good nor’easter can do it. And when Sandy struck, water came to the tops of doors in the shops and city offices in Highlands’ main commercial blocks.
So the city’s considering a modest proposal: to bring fill from the town’s higher sections into the downtown and elevate the whole area. The Atlantic City Press has this report: (“Higher Highlands? Downtown may be elevated, rebuilt to prevent future floods,” by Rob Spahr). “Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are expected to tour the town later this week, at the request of borough officials, to determine if the downtown can be backfilled and rebuilt at a higher elevation,” the paper says.
Cost? Well, it’s early to say, but guesses are in the neighborhood of $25 million just for the dirt work — and that doesn’t include the cost of re-paving streets, moving utilities, or raising buildings. But town Mayor Frank Nolan says, “The first thing we have to do is find out if the science is there. And from the people I have spoken to, who are smart guys, I believe it is.” After all, reasons Nolan, the city of Galveston, Texas, was elevated after a disastrous hurricane — “And that was 100 years ago. I’d have to think the science and technology is better now.”
Some citizens favor the idea in principle, the Press reported, but they’re not sure it’s practical (“Higher Highlands? Residents approve of idea to elevate town, but question feasibility,” by Rob Spahr). “I think if they solve the flooding issues, it will give people one less headache to worry about and I think more people will invest here,” Highlands property owner Bob Worthington told the paper. “But how high are they going to do? And will that be enough? What will happen with all the homes that have been passed down from generation to generation that can’t be raised? And if this is what they decided to do, it’s not something that will happen overnight. So how long will we be kept on hold, waiting for it to happen?”
CBS New York is also reporting on the public’s reaction (“Post-Sandy Proposal To Raise Downtown Gets Mixed Reviews In Highlands”). ““We’re having a hard enough time,” deli owner Donna Ross told the network. “I think it’s delusions of grandeur. We had many businesses that were abandoned before the flood.”
But zoning board member Art Gallagher argues that extreme measures may be called for. Says Gallagher: “Somebody could make a valid argument, ‘Well, you know, we shouldn’t build here at all and we never should have,’ except yeah but we did, and now what?”