With the Superstorm long gone and its Nor'easter aftershock fading also, New Jersey contractors are coming to grips with a long, arduous task of repair and reconstruction.
Coastal Connection spoke again last week with Toms River, N.J., contractor Eric Borden, as the Nor'easter spat wind and rain at his trucks and crews, working on cleanup and demolition in damaged oceanfront houses. Borden says the storm has left him and his clients with limited options as winter approaches.
Access has been difficult. "We're supposed to be able to get into the town of Mantaloking on Friday," Borden says. "With this Nor'easter coming in they got scared, so they're erring on the side of extreme caution." But even with access, there's not a whole lot Borden can do.
To begin with, he points out, there's no electricity and no gas on the barrier islands where his clients' buildings sit. "We have no power, and we have no plans, and we have no idea what's going on, and as you know, people start to get antsy when they can't get the answers that they need," he explains. "And even the areas that still have power lines intact, still don't have power turned on yet."
Most of Borden's island customers don't have standby generators at their beach houses. One client who lives farther inland does have a standby generator, says Borden, but after days of operation, his propane tank is starting to run low. And then there's the customer on the beach who does have a generator — "but it runs on natural gas," says Borden. As we reported last week, the storm destroyed the entire gas supply piping system for most of the New Jersey barrier islands.
Borden finally gained access to Mantaloking over the weekend, where he took the photo below of another remodeler's job, damaged by surge flooding. The back part of the house, an addition built to newer codes, is intact, while the original front portion was undermined, and collapsed. Says Borden, "The same wave action went all the way around the house. There was five feet of sand deposited on the back side of it. The original house had nothing tying it down to the sand, but the new back part was able to withstand the onslaught. It looks like a house in move-in condition."
) Fortunately for Borden and his clients, the damage to most of his houses has been relatively light so far — at least in the areas where he has been allowed access. "The scope of work is small, considering what we could be doing," he says. "I'm not as bad off as some of the other guys out there who have found some major structural issues. I'm going to be replacing doors, replacing some windows, doing some siding repairs, but most of it's going to be drywall, painting, and finish work. Cabinetry, that type of thing. So it's just a matter of prioritizing every job, getting materials ordered, and then installing it when it comes in." The lack of major structural damage, says Borden, lends some credence to the advanced building codes that have come into force on the islands in recent years. But not surprisingly, he notes that impact glazing, intended to reduce windblown debris and rain intrusion, didn't do much to prevent flood damage. "There's a house up the street that didn't lose any impact glass," he says, "but they still have two feet of sand on the inside because you can't stop the water and you can't stop the sand." At one house, Borden says, the surge wave picked up a dune-top deck and threw it into the house, breaking open the patio doors. "The impact glass didn't break," he says, "but that didn't really help."
This is Borden's first experience with flood damage repair and restoration. "I'm learning how to do it by reading on the internet," he says. "One of the questions I have about the mold is: it has been too cold to grow mold out here. That has been a saving grace. And stuff seems to be drying out. So one question is, does the rationale, ‘If it got wet, it gets torn out,' really apply in this instance? I'm not going to make that trial and error on any of my clients' houses — but I do wonder.
"We still can't get into Ortley Beach, New Jersey," Borden said on Monday. "I've still got jobs on the oceanfront there that I can't get into." Clients who can pay out of pocket for repairs are keeping Borden's crews busy on houses in the areas where the authorities allow entry. But like other Jersey residents, he's frustrated by the continuing obstacles. "We're beyond the second stage of grief," he says: "Now everybody's pissed off. Everybody wants to get into their houses, get them stabilized, get their stuff out. Everybody wants to make a decision on how they're going to move forward. But there's no permit process in place. What can we do? What are we allowed to do and what aren't we allowed to do? As power is coming back on in areas, everybody wants to get moving forward. And everybody's prevented from moving forward because of public safety issues." "The problem now is, we have to winterize all these houses," Borden says. "In past years, clients would keep the heat at 50 all winter long, with an alarm in case the heat went down too low so somebody could come fix whatever wasn't working. But now we have no electric and no gas, so we have to go in and blow out all the water lines, drain the water heaters, put antifreeze in the drain traps, and get ready for a hard freeze. And when are we going to get access?"