Back Bay’s delayed to 2021; Smith, Engelstad ‘optimistic’ – Star News Group


BRADLEY BEACH — A multi-year effort to understand and repair Sylvan and Fletcher lakes of Bradley Beach has pushed back completion citing funding and depth of the project, according to the Army Corps of Engineers [ACOE] and U.S. Congressman Chris Smith.

The New Jersey Back Bays Coastal Storm Risk Management Study [BBS], conducted by the ACOE Philadelphia district, was a $3 million project that was to “investigate coastal storm risk management and solutions to reduce damages from coastal flooding affecting population, critical infrastructure, critical facilities, property, and ecosystem” along the New Jersey shore.

The project had an initial completion date of April 2019. It now has a new deadline of October, 2021 and, according to Congressman Smith, a new proposed budget of $18 million.

The news comes after Congressman Smith met with the ACOE Lieutenant Colonel of the Philadelphia district overseeing the project, Michael Bliss, on Tuesday, April 25.

“We had a very good meeting with Lt. Con. Michael Bliss,” said Rep. Smith. “They’re talking about a significantly expanded study because there are so many intricacies to the coastal lakes.”

Rep. Smith is optimistic about the new parameters of the project, saying, “What we lose in time, we gain in specifics and comprehensiveness.”

“I asked him if it could be accelerated in any way without doing any damage to the substance and the comprehensiveness, and he said no,” said the congressman. “But then I asked if we had found certain things through remediation that could be done, if we could go to construction phase, and they said that a very real possibility. So, as they discover things that could be done, it’s October, 2021 [that] they’ll have in hand a study that says this is how we do a comprehensive flood mitigation effort for the Back Bay for the coastal lakes.”

The new budget for the project is pending approval, according to Congressman Smith, who said the lieutenant has a meeting later this month to seek the additional funding from the ACOE.

Once funding is approved, which Congressman Smith said the “[ACOE] has no doubt, nor do I,” that it will be, the project will further be capable of understanding the damage to the coastal lakes and remediation efforts.

According to Rep. Smith, the study will be based on 50 years of flooding data in the area.

“We’ll be asking the mayors again for any data they have, any study that was done, please make it available to the ACOE,” said Congressman Smith. “It won’t be a basis, but it could provide insight as to how to proceed as they work up their study.”

The congressman last met with the mayors of the affected boroughs in his district in November, 2015. There, he and the ACOE detailed plans for the original BBS, which officially commenced in April 2016.

Mayor Gary Engelstad responded to the new completion date and budget saying, “We’re going to take this as a positive development that they’re looking at this seriously.”

“We are very cautiously optimistic that this will lead to a real solution to our lakes, especially Bradley Beach’s Sylvan and Fletcher lake so that the next time another Sandy comes along, we’ll be better prepared,” said Engelstad.

According to Mayor Engelstad, much of the flooding Bradley Beach sustained in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy came from Sylvan and Fletcher lakes, and not the Atlantic Ocean.

Borough engineer, Jerry Freda, explained some of the ailments with Sylvan Lake in an interview.

“The biggest issue for the dredging is for the water quality,” he said. “For the habitat both fish and plant. When you don’t have sufficient depth of water, you really don’t have the qualities that are needed to adequately support the aquatic life.”

“What happens too is during a hurricane event or a very strong nor’easter, and high tide, no water can escape,” said Mr. Freda. “So as the rain event gets timed at the same time that’s going on, water is going into the lake but it has no way to get out of the lake. And that’s how you get this flooding.”

Mr. Freda compared Sylvan Lake to the other lakes in the study, saying, “From erosion, areas west of the lake that come through the various drainage systems and everything else. That’s it’s final resting spot. It gets deposited there before it gets to the ocean. So it would be great if there could be some type of, I don’t know, every 10 years, each lake gets dredged or whatever.”

Mr. Freda also confirmed that the borough has “mechanisms in place” that open and close based on the tide to drain the lake in the event of strong storms.

“But you have to be careful how you do that because you want to be able to maximize the storage volume of each lake.” he said. “There are certain types of storm events where there’s just nothing you can do.”

Mr. Freda also proposed looking west of the lakes, something the BBS is not looking into.

“When the development is built, they’ll put storm basins in. Well, a lot of those basins aren’t working right anymore. They’re 30-40 years old. If you go back and you try to address a lot of those areas, you’re breaking the big area into those little sub-parts. I think something has got to be looked at in the communities west of the shore towns. Now, all the water’s coming even faster than it used to,” said Mr. Freda.

Congressman Smith said that Lt. Con. Bliss will be following up with him after the mid-May meeting to discuss the project. Pending that meeting, the congressman plans to again meet with the mayors of the affected boroughs to update them on the status of the project.

“We’re looking at perhaps around Memorial Day or maybe the first week of June as a date for that meeting,” said the congressman. “And I’ll invite all the mayors and others to hear from him what his May 17 meeting will produce. So everyone is on the same page with the next step.”

Congressman Smith said, “the ACOE is very excited about this,” and explained his passion for the project.

“I spent time every summer in Belmar and my brother lived on 16th St for a while, and I proposed to my wife on a jetty right near Belmar Beach on Sixth Ave or so in 1977,” he said. “I learned how to waterski in Shark River as a 7 year old, so I kind of grew up in the area even though I grew up in Iselin. But it was always the place that we loved the most.”

Rep. Smith also said he was very optimistic about the project, despite it’s new deadline four years out.

“The emphasis on comprehensiveness and a doable solution that lasts for many decades to come far outweighs having it completed a year or two earlier than it might have,” he said. “I’d rather have the better study which they self-identified as essential than a study that may or may not work. You don’t want to be taking best estimates on the mitigation efforts and then we find out it wasn’t scientifically based.”

The Back Bay’s Project

The New Jersey Back Bays Coastal Storm Risk Management Study [BBS] was announced in April 2016 as a spin off project from the North Atlantic Comprehensive Coastal Study [NACCS]. The BBS supports the outcomes of the NACCS, according to the press release announcing the BBS.

The NACCS was a large effort undertaken after Hurricane Sandy to provide a “big picture of what flooded, why did it flood, and what we can do,” according to the Office of Chris Smith.

Out of that study came the BBS. According to Stephen Rochette, of the ACOE Public Affairs Office, the BBS is a multi-year effort in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection [NJDEP].

The BBS presents, in the press release, several project opportunities:

  • Flood risk is increasing for coastal populations and supporting infrastructure.
  • Improved land use, wise use of floodplains, responsible evacuation planning, and strategic retreat are important and cost-effective actions.
  • Communities should adopt combinations of solutions, including nonstructural, structural, natural and nature-based, and programmatic measures to manage risk, where avoidance is not possible.
  • Communities must identify their acceptable level of residual risk to plan for long-term, comprehensive,and resilient risk management.
  • Many opportunities exist to improve risk management, including enhancing collaboration, building new partnerships, and strengthening pre-storm planning.
  • Addressing coastal risk requires collaboration among local, regional, Tribal, State and Federal entities, NGOs, academia.
  • Resilience can be encouraged through the use of a CSRM framework and commitments to advance sea level and climate change science, and storm surge modeling and related themes.


The BBS is has a coverage area as large as the Everglades in Florida, according to Rep. Smith, and touches five counties, according to Mr. Rochette.

Sylvan and Fletcher lakes are only two of the 14 lakes or watersheds included in the BBS, which spans from Burlington County down to Cape May County.

“This is a really large study area,” said Mr. Rochette. “It covers 950 square miles and 35 miles of coastline so it’s pretty huge. It actually touches five counties — it touches a little bit of Burlington County too. Otherwise, it’s Cape May, Atlantic, Ocean, and Monmouth. So it’s very big.”

The money to fund the project comes from “the original Sandy money,” said the congressman. “That’s how we were able to latch onto it because people had talked about this for decades and nothing ever came of it.”

The project is currently in the “feasibility” phase, according to Mr. Rochette.

“We are currently in the scoping phase of the Feasibility Study,” he said. “The current efforts are identifying an array of alternative plans based on the problems and objectives of the study, inventorying existing conditions, forecasting future without project conditions and obtaining stakeholder input.”

The feasibility portion of the study is broken up into categories of solutions, according to Mr. Rochette. Structural solutions include bulkheads, seawalls, “and things of that nature.” Nonstructural solutions include elevating the structure or acquisition and getting out of the floodplain. Nature-based solutions may include wading shorelines and system-wide solutions include “tide gates and barriers.”

“So it looks at a full scenario of solutions that considers all of our studies, basically. We look at the cost of doing a solution and compare it to the damages we can prevent – the economic benefits of a study – and that’s how it’s sort of cost-justified,” said Mr. Rochette.

Mr. Rochette also confirmed that dredging is a solution being looked at, which, according to Mayor Engelstad, Sylvan Lake is in desperate need of.

Dredging, according to the DEP Division of Land Use Regulation website, is the removal of wetlands, “state open water soils, or sediments through the use of mechanical hydraulic, or pneumatic tools in an effort to restore or maintain original bottom contours of waterbodies.”

According to Borough Clerk Kelly Barrett, the borough has not done any major work on Sylvan Lake. The mayor cited cost as the primary obstacle.

“We really haven’t done anything,” said borough engineer Jerry Freda. “We’re trying to find money to do some work down there in the form of grants. The borough is actively looking for sources of grants to do some work at the lake and we are very close to getting a grant from the Monmouth County Open Space Program. And that will be at least something to get started.”

“Sylvan Lake, for example, should be 8 feet deep,” said Mayor Engelstad. “Because of sediment going into it over the years, you could walk across it right now. So what needs to happen in this event is dredging. And dredging is not cheap.”

Mr. Rochette clarified that “dredging to facilitate the beneficial use of sediment and regional sediment management for flood risk management purposes is being considered as part of the study.”

Mr. Rochette and the ACOE Public Affairs still quote the project as having a completion date of April, 2019 and a $3 million budget, despite Rep. Smith’s information on the contrary.

“[Lt. Con. Bliss] has a meeting set on or about May 17 with headquarters to try to get approval for any moneys the ACoE may have and how they fund this because they would fund $9 mil while the state of New Jersey would fund another $9 million,” said Congressman Smith. “Since that would be able $3 mil per year, they have no doubt, nor do I, that will be made available.”

According to Rep. Smith, the new funding will be split between the ACoE and the NJDEP, each entity responsible for $9 million each if approved.


This effort started in September, 2014 when Rep. Smith and Assemblyman Rible met with Mayor Engelstad in Bradley Beach to review Sylvan and Fletcher lakes.

According to records submitted to the Coast Star by the Office of Chris Smith, after meeting with the ACOE, the representative followed up with letters and testimonies in an effort to include the six coastal lakes of Shark River, Stockton Lake, The Glimmerglass, Lake Louise, Manasquan River, and Twilight Lake.

The lakes were not originally included because the “Army Corps said they were not hydrologically connected,” according to the Office.

Rep. Smith then met with the ACOE in New York and Philadelphia to discuss including those six coastal lakes in the BBS. He wanted these lakes included because “they may not be hydrologically connected now, but after Sandy, everything was connected and that it would be short sighted to study one without the other” according to his office.

In a September 2015 letter to Congressman Smith from the ACOE Philadelphia District, the ACOE agreed to include the six coastal lakes in the BBS.

The email read, “As a result of our coordination and your letter, we want to clarify that this will include all coastal lakes in Monmouth and Ocean counties, including those that do not have a tidal connection to the Atlantic Ocean under ordinary circumstances.”

According to Mayor Engelstad, the discussion on the lakes has been ongoing for a number of years.

“I brought this up when Assemblyman Rible was here because I became mayor right after Sandy and we immediately looked to the state for help,” he said. “They considered it and considered it and considered it and said ‘no’ because there were bigger issues at the time.”

The mayor said dredging is the primary solution for the lake, but cost is out of the borough’s reach.

“We’ve heard estimates for Sylvan Lake from 9 to eleven million dollars to do a really effective dredge in that lake,” said the mayor. “So we then turned to our government representative in Chris Smith and we were successful in at least getting the Army Corps of Engineers to do a study.”

That study became the BBS. But, according to the mayor, discussion fell silent for over a year after the November, 2015 meeting.

According to Mayor Engelstad, the town has not sat still in the process, and has looked at alternatives for dredging Sylvan Lake. One of those options was for the borough to fund the project itself.

“I think it’s taken so long because if they do decide to do something, that’s a lot of lakes. They have practically every shore town,” said the mayor. “It’s taken a long time because I’m hopeful that they realized this is something that needs to be addressed and they would have to make a very solid case in order to fund it.”

The conversation on the coastal lakes and the BBS was reintroduced at a March 28, 2017 council meeting when Mayor Engelstad asked Assemblyman David Rible, who was visiting the dais, about the status of the project.

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