The southern shore of New Jersey took the direct impact of Superstorm Sandy's onslaught. Barrier island communities on the Jersey Shore were decimated.
On Monday, Coastal Connection got through to custom builder and longtime JLC contributor Eric Borden, owner of ESB Contracting in Toms River, N.J. Borden's own house in Toms River was put out of commission in the storm, he told us: "We took Barnegat Bay through the back wall of the house." But Borden and his family are okay. "I'm at my daughter's," he said. "I won't be back in my house for a few months. But I've got a generator that is running a warm house, and we've got water; so truthfully, I'm happy."
Borden builds almost exclusively on the water. "My friends joke that if it's not within three blocks of the shore, Eric won't build it — and that's pretty much true," he said. Now, he said, "I've got damage in almost every house that I've built in the past fifteen years. I've only had one homeowner call me and say that they had only minor damage, that the water did not get into their first floor."
Almost all of that is high-end work: "Most of my homes are four million plus," said Borden. And because most of the houses were built to FEMA-mandated modern codes, they provide an interesting test case. "They were all built to the higher elevation and the whole bit," said Borden. "And I can show you pictures of two oceanfront houses where we have dug three feet of sand out of the first floor." Evidently, said Borden, Sandy's storm surge flooding was higher than the official Base Flood Elevation for that stretch of shoreline.
"One house, they had a big 14-foot by 22-foot dune-top deck," says Borden (see slideshow), "and that deck just came apart. It floated in and opened up the doors of the house — went right through the storm shutters, blew the doors open, and allowed the house to be compromised. The dune in front of the house was at elevation 23, and the house was at elevation 15. And it just wasn't enough."
At least, says Borden, he now has his work cut out for him. But it's going to take time: "I think that we've lost our summer of 2013. I don't know what's going to happen next year. I mean, here it is November, and we've got seven short months to try and figure out how to do something so that we can get residents and people back on the island."
Insurance won't play a big role for most of the damaged properties, Borden guesses. "Most of the houses on the barrier islands are second houses," he says, "so they're not covered." But even when damaged, the properties represent a lot of wealth. "A five million dollar property," says Borden, "the house may have cost $500,000, and the lot is worth $4.5 million." Wealthy customers are already taking steps to secure and repair their properties: "My clients have a $6.5 million house on the oceanfront, and they didn't have flood insurance on it. It's their second home. They use it for two months a year, and thank God that they've got the beans to turn around and just pay to have it fixed." A relative of the clients owns one of the largest road construction companies in New Jersey, says Borden — "So the day after the storm, he was driving a big Cat front end loader into Bay Head so he could see what the damage was, and the next day he had 12 laborers there taking all the sand out of the house and emptying the house out."
But repairing, or even replacing, an individual home is only a part of the problem facing the barrier islands: "They killed the infrastructure for our whole barrier island the other day," says Borden. "They had to kill the gas lines to the island, and every gas line over there has been compromised. It's either full of seawater or sand or both. They have no idea when we are going to get the gas lines back. You take a ten-mile stretch of barrier island and you just kill the gas lines and you have no power running over there — how much money is it going to cost to rebuild that infrastructure, and how long is it gonna take?"