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Stafford Township, New Jersey helping residents elevate homes to combat rising sea levels

NEW JERSEY — Homes in Manahawkin sit just feed from man-made lagoons, but even on a lovely day, water rises above bulkheads.

“In about 25 minutes, it’ll be completely high tide, and the water is going to be coming over the dock,” said Joe Sokolowski.

Sunny-day flooding happens with greater frequency these days because of sea-level rise.

Data shows that nearby Atlantic City recorded eight sunny-day floods in 2007. It could increase to 34 by 2030 and 120 by 2050.

Still, this is Sokolowski’s happy place and he does what’s needed to protect it. He already elevated his home and plans to raise his bulkhead.

“When we first bought the house, it was about two cement blocks off the ground,” he said.

It now sits more than 13 feet above base flood elevation thanks to a grant money Stafford Township, which includes Manahawkin, that covered 75% of the cost.

“It is well worth it,” said Sokolowski.

It should help avoid a repeat of the devastation Superstorm Sandy left in its wake.

“In the last 100 years, we’ve seen at least a foot of sea level rise already,” said Lisa Auermuller, associate director of the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.

According to Auermuller, sea levels will continue to rise, likely at an accelerated speed.

“Our land is sinking at the same time the water is rising,” said Auermuller.

New Jersey’s sea level rose by 8.2 inches from 1979 to 2019, nearly twice as much as the global average, she said. There’s a 50% chance it will rise by another 1.4 feet by 2050.

“You can either pretend it’s not happening or choose to do something about it,” said Auermuller.

Stafford Township is doing a lot about it.

Auermuller recommended we meet with Mayor Greg Myrhe and Township Administrator Matt Von Der Hayden to learn more about Resilient Stafford, the plan that puts grant and capital funding to use to adapt to our changing climate.

“We’ve helped about 600 people through either education projects or flood mitigation assistance grants that we’ve been able to get to elevate their homes,” said Von Der Hayden.

Elevating homes is necessary to protect them and make long-term goals, like elevating roadways, possible.

The township shored up storm water pipes to ensure efficient drainage and rehabbed the sewer system, which led to the cleanup of the bay.

“From a restricted to eventually an approved area, and the water quality is cleaned up that much, that’s unheard of,” said Von Der Hayden.

The township worked with Rutgers on bioswale and rain garden designs that will reduce runoff during excessive rainfall. Next, they need to find funding.

A grant was just awarded that will help protect these homes against storm surge.

“That includes bringing bottom material from here and restoring the wetlands over there,” said Myrhe.

Through these efforts, Stafford Township earned a 25% discount on flood insurance premiums for residents like Sokolowski, who hopes to enjoy his happy place for decades to come.

Original article at CBS New York