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Lessons of Sandy: Raising homes paid off for some

03 Feb 2016

Lessons of Sandy: Raising homes paid off for some

Posted by with - in 2016, Latest News

Sharon Stabley

HE ELEVATED: Larry Johnson is happy he raised his Ocean City home after Sandy. It used to sit as low as his neighbor’s. In January, water intruded only in the garage, which was built to withstand it. ‘My first floor is 15 feet off the ground, so there’s no issue there,‘ he says.

Larry Johnson got 2 inches of water in his Ocean City home in Hurricane Sandy, just enough to force him to rip out all the flooring and 2 feet of the walls and treat the house for mold.

But when January’s nor’easter hit New Jersey, he didn’t worry about any Sandy reruns — even as he watched water flow down his street “like a river, almost” from a storm that set high-tide records farther south in Cape May County.

After Sandy, Johnson and his wife, Maria, ripped down their old rancher and rebuilt. Their home now sits on top of marine-grade piling that kept everything but the garage high and dry in this flooding.

And all it took to fix that was a power-washer.

“I know where I live, and I know when there’s tidal flooding, I’m at risk,” he said. “But my first floor is 15 feet off the ground, so there’s no issue there.”

Flooding varies by storm, and Sandy’s worst-hit areas fared better in many cases than southern Cape May County towns did in this storm.

But another difference between the two storms is that after Sandy, many homeowners went through the complex, confusing and expensive process of having their houses raised, or knocking them down and starting over higher.

Others couldn’t or didn’t navigate the forms and funding frustration it took to elevate their homes.


“It was extremely difficult, and it continues to be difficult,” said Sue Marticek, the executive director of the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group. “I don’t think there was ever clarity put out there to the homeowner.”

The conflicts ranged from how high residents should raise “a moving target”to government agencies giving different information to insurance companies underpaying on damage claims, Marticek said.

The state Department of Community Affairs said about 2,215 homes have been raised so far through the Homeowner Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program, which provides up to $150,000 in grants for eligible projects of Sandy victims.

Another 4,530 elevations are in progress through the program, the state said.

The numbers apply only to those participating in RREM, not those who do so outside the program.

In Ocean City, Mary Ann and Paul Nespoli also saw Sandy flood their house with 14 inches of water. They stayed above the flood line this time, too.

But they didn’t raise their house after Sandy, and they just barely stayed dry in the latest northeaster. They spent most of the weekend petrified, watching the water rise and fall with “icebergs” of snow in it, Mary Ann said. It was almost like watching a TV nature show from Alaska, she said.

“I thought we were going to go through it again,” she said.

The couple rode Sandy out with family in Pennsylvania. They didn’t leave in the January storm, but they didn’t sleep either.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. This was unbelievable. … You’d look out and think, ‘What’s happening? It’s the end of the world,’” Mary Ann said. They have two steps up from the street into their house, and the water hit the top of the first one before it finally started heading back to the bay. “We had about 8 inches to go for it to get into the house.”

After Sandy, they were out of their house for five months of repairs, but they never saw raising the house as a real option.

“I figured heck, we’re 81 years old, and they were calling it a 50-year storm,” Mary Ann said. “I kept saying, ‘I’m not going to be here here for 50 more years.”

Jack Ball bought his house right beside the Ocean City bay days before Sandy struck. He hadn’t even finished moving in when the hurricane moved into South Jersey.

He not only raised the house after that scare, the city raised his low-lying street, a block off the Ninth Street bridge, which went through its own dramatic raising a few years ago.

Ball said this was by far the worst weather since Sandy, but he wasn’t worried.

“It was very comforting Friday night,” said Ball, a builder and a real-estate agent. “I didn’t know what else was going to happen, but I knew I wasn’t going to get wet.”

That was a slightly different feeling from his old setup.

“Before we lifted, in a normal storm tide, we’d get 2 feet of water under the house,” he said. “Every full moon, we’d get 6 inches under the house. Our street flooded chronically.”

Up in Brigantine, Sandy’s ground zero, Larry Lamcken also knew his house wouldn’t flood this time, because it was one of the highest buildings in town. It’s still in the lifting process, waiting to be lowered down onto a new new foundation.

He can count six freshly elevated houses on his street, and another in the process. The new elevation made it easier to be confident during the latest storm, but it was no easy process.

“If you’re raised, be prepared for it to be longer than whatever they tell you. And just go over all your paperwork, because there are so many conflicts,” Lamcken said.

Posted: Wednesday, February 3, 2016 5:15 pm


Contact: 609-272-7237

Posted: Wednesday, February 3, 2016 5:15 pm


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