Safety Concerns Linger in Brick's Barrier Island Neighborhoods
Full time residents say traffic, destroyed homes could pose a problem as spring approaches
If not for the 45 degree temperature, it may as well have been a summer day on Route 35 in Brick.
A constant stream of traffic clogged the state highway, and a miles-long line of cars backed up from the Mantoloking Bridge up and down the barrier island.
Even on weekdays, residents say, the traffic is nonstop.
But while Shore locals have tolerated the annual summer influx of traffic for as long as out-of-towners have flocked to the water, the lingering idea of "disaster tourism" in the wake of Superstorm Sandy has some residents concerned, especially as warmer weather approaches.
There are concerns of looting or break-ins, residents say, but there is also an uneasiness about people stopping their cars and going on private property to take photos of damage. When the spring and summer seasons come, there are similar concerns that children or teenagers could begin exploring torn-apart neighborhoods and homes, and get hurt.
"Either there's going to be a severe accident, or somebody's going to get hurt, or the people will stop and get out of their car and go into an area where they're not supposed to be," said Peter Kupper, a year-round resident who runs Charlie's Farm Market and Charlie's Bait and Tackle.
Nick Spino, another year-round Normandy Beach resident, said he's caught people who went behind the fences on the property where his damaged home sits. He's now set up lights to ensure the area isn't as dark, since many street lights were destroyed in the storm, and homes that would normally be occupied are empty.
"I'm here every day working on houses, and I see countless people stop, get out, and come into this area," said Spino. "It's a dangerous situation, and it's only going to get worse since the weather starts breaking."
"The cops are doing the best job they can, but it's almost overwhelming," said Spino.
Residents who spoke with Brick Patch were unanimously complimentary of the township police department, but "there can't be a cop on every block, every minute," said Frank Petrillo, another year-round resident whose home suffered only minimal damage in the storm.
Brick Police Sgt. Keith Reinhard said there haven't been any notable arrests for looting, though police have pulled over suspicious vehicles and kept trespassers at bay.
Reinhard said three officers are assigned to the barrier island portion of town at all times.
A great concern to residents has been the lack of progress demolishing severely damaged homes that could appear inviting to both "disaster tourists" as well as youngsters who might venture behind protective fences and look inside.
"I know, if I was a young kid, that would look pretty tempting," said Petrillo.
Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis said the issue of unoccupied, damaged homes remaining at least partially standing is one that both barrier island as well as mainland residents are dealing with. Concerns about warmer weather bringing out trespassers are shared by residents on both sides of the bay.
"What people can have a level of comfort in is that there will be an increased police presence, and there will be no leniency when people are in places they are not supposed to be," said Acropolis.
The township's participation in FEMA's Private Property Debris Removal (PPDR) program, which will allow the township to organize demolition and cleanup of destroyed homes, has been approved by the township council. Acropolis said the township is now using one demolition as a test case, and then it will proceed with a larger program.
Still, PPDR is not a mandatory program, and it may take a while before some residents work out insurance settlements or other legal issues, meaning their damaged homes will remain standing.
"Obviously, there's going to be stepped up enforcement, as there are issues with insurance companies, and there are going to be lawsuits" that can drag the process out, Acropolis said. "We want these demolitions to go as quickly as they can."