A Day in the Life of the Post-Sandy Barrier Island
Hard work, long hours leads to significant progress
It's about 11:30 a.m. There's some traffic in Mantoloking, heading south to Brick's neighborhoods on the Barnegat Peninsula.
Nobody is heading to the beach.
There aren't a lot of cars on the island; only emergency personnel, and cleanup and construction crews are allowed over the Mantoloking Bridge. The small bottleneck entering the island isn't caused by volume, just circumstance.
There's no heading to Route 35 and making a right. There isn't much about the transition from Mantoloking Road in Brick to Herbert Street in Mantoloking that many people would recognize, for that matter. Getting onto the island these days involves a breathtaking, unobstructed view of the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the bridge, then a quick right turn onto Bay Avenue in Mantoloking, out to Downer Avenue, then up to Route 35.
It isn't Route 35 South or Route 35 North. Here, it's both. There's a double yellow line down the middle of what was once Route 35 South, and traffic moves in both directions.
There are a few checkpoints manned by National Guard soldiers. They give a friendly wave to an authorized vehicle. There's a fire burning near the checkpoint where the soldiers keep warm.
On this day, residents of the Curtis Point section are seeing their homes and assessing any damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Curtis Point, Mayor Stephen Acropolis said, wasn't unscathed, but wasn't hit catastrophically either. Police officers patrol the streets, making sure everyone obeys the township's re-entry rules, but also making sure residents who need help - from carrying something heavy, to tracking down a plumber - receive it.
By noon, it's lunch time at the police substation - or, as it's now called, the forward operating base - near the Pioneer Hose fire station, just south of Used to Be's bar.
Public works employees trickle in, a couple at a time. On today's menu, it's sandwiches and hot tomato soup from the Brickhouse Bar and Grille.
It's been a nonstop grind for the Public Works crew. They've been working shifts, 12 hours on, 12 hours off, since the storm hit. Lunch is a good time to recharge, but most members of the crew seem to want to get back to work for their town.
"Just had that new floor put in," said one of the DPW workers, speaking of his own flooding troubles at home.
For all of what seemed like its helplessness during the storm, Brick's barrier island portion is ironically a small, self-sufficient zone today. There's a medical tent set up near the fire company to tend to potential injuries, a mechanic's workshop where vehicles were being serviced, and even an office in the substation that acts as the nerve center of it all.
Thanks to the Public Works crews' hard work, heavy lifting and round-the-clock dedication, the island is looking more like an island and less like a war zone. Debris isn't strewn about randomly as it once was. It is, for the most part, out of the road and piled into small mountains in various open spaces, waiting to be hauled away.
Utility poles have been replaced. Route 35 has been shored up, with fresh pavement and new guardrails just north of Bayview Park. Crews in Normandy Beach continue to clear debris, and at D&R Boat World marina, vessels are starting to be properly placed on blocks or trailers, as they usually are in November.
In the parking lot of St. Padre Pio Church, Brick's oft-forgotten fouth Roman Catholic place of worship, what seems like hundreds of electrical transformers sit in rows, waiting to be installed so the lights can come back on.
Progress over the past three weeks has been immense, if not downright triumphant.
But Hurricane Sandy has made a few marks that will be permanent.
Oceanfront homes on Sunset Boulevard are off their foundations. An overturned Jeep Wrangler sits on someone's front lawn. Closer to Route 35 near the Camp Osborn neighborhood, another Wrangler is buried in the sand underneath a house. How it slipped in there is a secret between the once-off-road vehicle and the ocean.
Then there's Camp Osborn. The neighborhood whose name was barely known even to a majority of Brick residents is now known across the world thanks to shocking Air National Guard videos from the day after the storm hit. There's nothing left of it. Some of the homes are burnt into charred sticks, while others are half-burnt, with a fresh coat of blue paint or a recently-installed Pella window visible where the flames didn't hit.
Much of the neighborhood doesn't even show much in the way of evidence of the raging gas fire that burnt it to the ground. It's just beach sand.
How the area will be rebuilt is a long-term question. One of the township's oldest neighborhoods, the previous lots would probably never conform to modern zoning codes.
But a resurgence of the island is evidenced in the parking lot of Brick Beach III. There, a truck powers a massive cylindrical hopper that separates debris out of beach sand before it's hauled back onto the beach. A berm has been created along the entire township's oceanfront to protect against future winter storms.
Over the municipal border in Mantoloking, natural gas pipes are placed along the roadway waiting to be installed.
Though there's no traffic light, no paved road and certainly no lanes, the intersection of what was Route 35 North and Herbert Street - which led to the Mantoloking Bridge - looks about ready for blacktop to be poured. The new inlet that formed during Sandy has been plugged up, and a metal wall protects it from the ocean for now.
Brick's barrier island neighborhoods are sometimes thought of locally as summer colonies, but the reality is that they are home to many year-round residents, Brick school buses cross the bridge on a daily basis taking kids back and forth, and they are home to more than 1,000 homes and 63 businesses.
Thanks to the grueling work of some of Brick's hardest working residents - its public works, parks and police employees - those who live there will be able to call it home again, sooner rather than later.