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Six Months After Sandy, N.J. Battles Back

A small NJ borough is still showing the signs of Sandy's wake.

Wed May 08, 2013 - Northeast Edition
Giles Lambertson

Nothing about Hurricane Sandy was neat. In the first place, the storm that wrecked parts of New Jersey and adjacent states wasn’t even a hurricane.

By the time it smashed and flooded the New Jersey coast, it had been downgraded to a gale with 80 mile-per-hour winds. Yet in its hurricane landfalls elsewhere in the Atlantic Ocean plus its post-hurricane battering of the mainland United States, the storm wreaked enough damage that the World Meteorological Organization has retired “Sandy” as a hurricane designation.

Some New Jersey construction equipment dealers and contractors won’t argue the point. The October 2012 storm swamped them with orders and contracts, and six months later contracts are still being let by boroughs, counties and the state department of transportation.

Case in point: The borough of Mantoloking.

Breaching a Barrier Island

“Superstorm” Sandy was a merger of a tropical cyclone with a frontal system out of the northeast. It made landfall just north of Atlantic City on Oct. 29 with punishing winds and a surge of water at least a dozen feet high.

The wave action ripped through the barrier island residential community of Mantoloking, which is a quarter mile wide and 2.5 miles long. State Route 35 runs north-south through the island, but it carried no through-traffic the morning after the storm. Debris and sand clogged it and residents discovered a new inlet connecting the ocean to Barnegat Bay, completely severing the island and the road.

“We had the ocean rushing right through the island,” recalled Doug Popaca, a team member of the borough’s Office of Emergency Management. Two other gashes in the roadway more or less sanded up again, but the principal breach just north of Mantoloking Bridge would need help being healed.

IEW Construction Group out of Trenton, N.J., was tapped by the New Jersey DOT to make the roadway whole again, and an IEW crew started to work within 48 hours of the departure of the storm, according to Popaca.

“They hauled in truckloads of sand around the clock for three or four days,” he said. “In that time, they closed the gash and put the road back.”

The repair work included placement of steel sheeting along the ocean side of the fill area to discourage erosion of the gravel and sand fill. The rapid closing of the gap and subsequent reopening of the roadway was dubbed The Miracle on Route 35, an allusion to the holiday film, Miracle on 34th Street.

“It shows what you can do if you don’t have to apply for permits,” Popaca quipped about the quick work.

Equipment Crunch

The magnitude of the storm damage overwhelmed the normal inventory levels of many equipment dealers. The resultant scramble for machinery favored those dealers with established networks and prescient managers — or, at least, prepared ones.

Executives at Foley CAT, the Caterpillar dealership in Piscataway, were among those who saw the storm coming, so to speak, and were able to quickly respond when the day dawned on a devastated coastal area.

“We had a good chunk of equipment in our inventory,” said Jeff Merle, vice president of machine sales of Foley, “and we immediately called other Cat dealers to get the rest.” From one Cat dealer alone, Merle secured 30 wheel loaders to meet customers’ sudden needs.

Caterpillar 938 and 950 wheel loaders were loaded on flatbeds and driven east toward crisis areas. So were Cat 336 and 349 excavators fitted with grapples and claw buckets. Cat off-road articulated trucks became debris haulers.

The heavy equipment was ordered and operated by private contractors for the most part, some of whom were cleaning up storm-assaulted Staten Island and Rockaway in New York. Other machines went southeast to Seaside Heights, Mantoloking and other New Jersey Route 35 communities.

The scope of the clean-up effort is suggested by this: One contractor ordering Foley equipment and working the New Jersey coastline was D&J Enterprises, an Alabama contractor specializing in flood recovery and debris removal.

Rentals, Service Calls

The rental side of equipment yards, normally busy, got a whole lot busier after Sandy. Ryan Foley, vice president of Foley Rents, said the company got the jump on the storm and stocked up on generators. Over five days, Foley contacted 15 Cat dealers as far west as Houston and pulled together a stockpile of 330 Cat generators. The diesel-powered units ranged in output from 100 kilowatts to 2 megawatts.

They were deployed in the days before the storm for distribution after the storm, either as primary power sources or backup units. After Sandy struck, all of the generators were quickly rented out to such customers as transit stations and gas stations, with larger units going to shopping centers and hospitals. Six months later, fully 10 percent of the generators are still being rented.

Because Foley property was spared storm damage and never lost power, it was able to respond fully and effectively — and unceasingly: The Foley Rents office was open, in fact, every day for three straight weeks.

The intensity of the storm also ratcheted up the number of service calls.

Tim Watters, president and CEO of Hoffman Equipment in Piscataway, had the same sales and rental experience as other equipment dealers: As soon as the skies cleared, he fielded a rush of calls for equipment — “wheel loaders, excavators, backhoes, a little bit of everything.”

But the company also received “a significant amount of service work,” Watters said. Some of the service calls were routine requests to keep new and rental equipment working hard. But technicians also were called to get equipment running that had been punished by a combination of rainclouds and swirling ground water.

For example, Hoffman supplied several Grove cranes to contractors working waterfront areas in Newark and Port Elizabeth. However, he also sent technicians to those areas to service heavy cranes that withstood eight feet of floodwater but were rendered inoperable.

Service calls continue to keep Hoffman service techs busy. The same is true at Foley CAT. The dealer brought in eight more technicians to keep up with maintenance and service calls and has needed every one.

Contractors Called

State DOT crews were among the initial first responders in the hours after the storm moved past the coast. But calls went out to contractors as well, particularly to those in the immediate area. Ferreira Construction Co. was one of the heavy general contractors to respond. Said a company spokesman six months later: “Being from New Jersey, we were happy to be able to help with the work.”

The Branchburg, N.J., company had moved equipment to higher ground in the most vulnerable areas of New Jersey and New York in advance of the storm’s arrival and were able to respond quickly to such places as Belmar, and farther south at Mantoloking and Seaside Heights. One of the first destinations for their excavators, dozers and trucks was Ortley Beach, a Route 35 community located just above Seaside Heights.

Ortley Beach, like its neighbors, had its boardwalk ripped away, many of its houses destroyed and sometimes deposited in the roadway, and hundreds of tons of sand beach relocated to its streets. Ferreira dispatched equipment to Ortley to begin the clearing away activity that preceded actual cleaning up, the work of opening the streets for utility and emergency vehicles.

Ferreira has some 300 pieces of heavy equipment in its yards in New Jersey, New York and Florida and, in the end, 98 of them were involved in Sandy clean-up operations. In addition, a couple of screeners were rented and one purchased to filter debris-clogged stockpiled dunes of sand that eventually was returned to the beach.

The company moved some 96,000 cu. yds. (73,397 cu m) of sand and debris, expending some 17,800 manhours in the effort, company officials said. The work has slowed now, of course, but bids are being advertised by boroughs and counties for reconstruction of beach facilities and streets. Ferreira anticipates being involved in that kind of contractual work for some time.

Billion-Dollar Response

Billions of dollars of loss were attributed to the coastal storm — including damaged and destroyed housing and interrupted business revenue streams. Nearly $1 billion of the total was ponied up specifically for transportation infrastructure repair, including roadways, drainage systems, bridges and the like.

Yet the figure is somewhat deceptive. Some $135 million of the amount indeed was spent on emergency repairs in the days and weeks following the drenching. This temporary work included getting roadways open, shoring up roadbeds, removing debris and sand, and other first-response kinds of repair work.

Much of the early work was accomplished by DOT crews and by private contractors on call to DOT for emergencies, such as IEW. In an approximate 12-mi. (19 km) section of Route 35 and along roads branching off of it, the emergency crews in the early days of the disaster removed 27 structures and114 stranded vehicles and watercraft.

Some 4,425 dump truck loads of other debris were removed, and 4,300 loads of sand loaded and carried to a staging area, where a contractor screened the sand and piled it high. Municipalities then collected the sand to replenish their beach areas, according to NJDOT Spokesman Joe Dee, who consulted notes about where the $135 million went.

“After the storm, we had 80 sinkholes in this stretch of Route 35, washouts hundreds of feet long and three significant breaches,” he said. “In 53 days, we had the sinkholes, washouts and breaches repaired and the road open. It was amazingly quick.”

Shoring Up Assets

However, the other $851 million in the repair fund is earmarked for, in the words of Dee, “capital projects to make assets more resilient in the face of future storms. Our job was to look at what assets were vulnerable.”

In other words, though some of the money will repair the damage of the last storm, a lot more will be expended on upgrades only marginally related to Sandy, projects that had been planned for a several years ahead. About a quarter of the capital funding — some $215 million — will be spent upgrading Route 35 so it is in better condition than it was before Sandy crashed against it last October.

Some contracts for that reconstruction project already have been let, with the expectation that “shovels will be in the ground in early summer,” Dee said. Contracts are being prepared for two more rounds of bidding.

The hammered stretch of Route 35 runs from Island Beach State Park to Point Pleasant Beach and runs through two of the hardest hit communities, Mantoloking and Seaside Heights. The latter is a popular summer destination because of its ocean-side amusement park and commercial boardwalk. The storm demolished both the park and the boardwalk.

For about 9 mi. (14.5 km), Route 35 is a divided four-lane highway, starting at Island Beach State Park, with the northern 3 mi. (4.8 km) narrowing to two lanes. It is jammed with traffic during the summer months.

The pavement formerly was an 8-in. (20 cm), concrete slab on sand. The replacement roadway will be a full 24 in. (61 cm), thick, including rock and stone subbase and several courses of asphalt, Dee said. A drainage system will include pump stations.

“Flooding was a problem even before the storm. There really was no drainage system there,” he said. “So the road is usable again but there are voids under the concrete and it was severely compromised. We have to rebuild it before the next storm, or we might lose the road.”

The DOT goal is to have Route 35 work finished before the summer of 2015.

Other Infrastructure

In Mantoloking, the surging water didn’t just rip away concrete lanes. It also dismantled New Jersey Natural Gas lines. Some 7,000 ft. of gas main and another 4,000 ft. of auxiliary lines were replaced after the storm, according to Popaca.

New Jersey American Water reportedly laid some 2,000 ft. of water line that had washed out.

The borough’s sanitary sewer system and pump station were swept away. Sewer pipes survived intact, Popaca said, but everything above ground was gone on Oct. 30. That loss stalled other recovery efforts because the station needed to be working first before other kinds of hook-ups could be done.

“Right now, we are working with a permanent temporary system,” he said, referring to interim pumping facilities, “because we don’t know at what height the new one will have to be built.”

Colossal Home Damage

Because Mantoloking is a purely residential community — and one of the wealthiest communities in the area — the borough’s homes suffered most. About 60 homes were washed into the bay, intact or in pieces, and another 140 will have to be demolished. In late April, the borough approved a demolition contract for removal of some of the uninhabitable houses, with excavators and dump trucks likely to begin their work in the next couple of weeks.

The bay on the inward side of the borough already has been emptied of some residential debris, cars, trees and occasional jet skis. The Department of Transportation has agreed to systematically remove the remaining debris, Popaca said.

“They are only now starting to sonar the water and find the stuff.”

Sand also will be dredged and sucked up from the bay water, mechanically sifted, and carted back to the beach area. New Jersey beaches are said to be 30 to 40 ft. (9 to 12 m) narrower, on average, due to the turbulent water’s transfer of sand from one place to another.

Mantoloking is hoping to open three of 13 access points to its beaches this season, but at the moment, Caterpillar D7 dozers are the only things playing in the sand.

“Now we’re worrying about the start of hurricane season,” Popaca said. “We don’t want one within a hundred miles of Mantoloking. Traditionally, what we worry about are nor’easters breaking through our little dune system. We are in a precarious position.”

Work Continues

The hectic days of clean-up are long gone, but machinery will be moving New Jersey sand, hauling and laying asphalt, and sinking piers for many months yet. That means equipment dealers will continue to be busy.

Hoffman Equipment, for example, recently sold a Manitowoc 11000 to a contractor that won a bid to place piers for a new boardwalk, one of many replacement walkways under construction before summer tourist season.

Foley CAT is keeping an eye on a Route 35 bidding process that will result in contracts totaling more than $200 million before the money runs out. Ryan Foley sees the ongoing recovery process as something of a drawn out bureaucratic business opportunity.

“There are a bunch of FEMA matters that haven’t been settled,” he said. “There will be regulations for new flood zones, which means some people will have to raise houses. There still is a bunch of demolition stuff and insurance stuff.”

In other words, the wrap-up to Sandy won’t be any neater than was the storm itself.

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