LINCROFT, N.J. -- As the sun rose over the Atlantic Highlands Municipal Harbor on the morning after Superstorm Sandy, evidence of the storm’s destructive power lay everywhere.
The once-picturesque marina was in shambles. Some 200 sailboats, dinghies and massive cabin cruisers had been carried from the harbor by the storm surge, landing in parking lots, streets and yards across a wide swath of the 1.2 mile square borough.
All of the marina’s 12 piers and supporting infrastructure had been demolished. Remnants of wooden walkways, pilings, utility poles, gas pumps, electrical and water systems, bulkheads, fencing and mooring posts lay submerged in the harbor or scattered for blocks around town.
“Our municipal harbor was totally destroyed by the storm, along with several businesses,” said Atlantic Highlands Borough Administrator and Emergency Management Officer Adam Hubeny. “There wasn’t one dock or pier that was salvageable.”
Three buildings in the harbor area had been flooded or heavily damaged by winds and rain: the Shore Casino, a banquet facility; Sissy’s, a popular pier side breakfast stop; a bait and tackle shop, and, above Sissy’s, On the Deck restaurant, which had lost its signature outdoor deck.
Emergency officials quickly cordoned off the area and began the formidable task of securing the scene, protecting public health and safety, and assessing the damage.
Working closely with Monmouth County’s public assistance coordinator and a project specialist from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the borough developed a plan to restore the marina and put the project out to public bid.
“From an administrative standpoint, we felt FEMA did excellent work,” Hubeny said. “They treated us well, and the biggest part of our success was having the same project specialist with us from day one. Continuity in this type of situation was critical. That’s why the borough feels we were so successful.”
The restoration of the Atlantic Highlands harbor was among the 10 largest projects in New Jersey to receive federal disaster funding.
The estimated cost for the restoration of the harbor and its facilities was less than $20 million, Hubeny said. Federal disaster funds will reimburse the borough for 90 percent of that cost, or approximately $18 million.
The design and engineering work was done by T&M Associates. Contracts for the demolition of the wrecked facility and its reconstruction were ultimately awarded to J.H. Reid Contractors.
With room to accommodate 600 boats, the Atlantic Highlands Harbor is believed to be the largest municipally owned marina on the East Coast.
The marina is home port for eight deep-sea fishing charter boats. It’s also a popular berthing facility and launching point for hundreds of recreational boaters.
It is also an important commuting hub: The Seastreak LLC ferry links Atlantic Highlands to Manhattan, making 17 trips a day.
More than 380,000 passengers use the ferry each year to commute to their jobs in the business and financial centers of Wall Street and midtown Manhattan.
The ferry line also brings day trippers to the shore in the summer months and provides comfortable transportation for area residents who want to see a play, attend an event or spend a leisurely day in the city.
The harbor contributes more than $1.2 million in tax payments to the borough each year while attracting a customer base to the borough’s small business community that is vital to its economic well-being.
Because the town sits at a slightly higher elevation than others along the shore, the borough was spared the massive destruction experienced by neighboring towns like Highlands and Sea Bright. But, Atlantic Highlands, too, had been hit hard. One hundred private homes and 50 businesses had been damaged by high winds, heavy rains and flooding as the Shrewsbury River and Many Mind Creek overflowed its banks.
With so much at stake, restoring the harbor to full service was a critical step in helping the town get back on its feet.
The first priority was to clear the marine environment of the wreckage deposited by the storm. Contractors hired by the borough were soon on the scene with divers, sonar equipment and barges to carry the debris away.
By the second week in November, the waters were again safe for navigation and commuter ferry service was restored with the use of temporary docking facilities.
From dawn to dusk through the winter months, the cleanup continued.
On March 1, 2013, the reconstruction began. The borough opted to install floating docks instead of fixed piers, which provide easier access to boats because the docks rise and fall along with the tides, Hubeny said.
The new construction also incorporated strutted aluminum and sturdy metals to bolsters the marina’s resilience should another storm make landfall in the region.
When the summer boating season arrived, the marina had made substantial progress, enjoying an 80 percent rate of occupancy compared to their pre-storm numbers. “We’ve had many returning customers, but we’ve also seen many new customers,” Hubeny said.
And as the one-year anniversary of Sandy approaches, the borough takes comfort in the fact that its new piers are guaranteed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane.
Next, the One Year Later series examines the only phase of emergency management dedicated to breaking the cycle of damage: Hazard Mitigation.
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