Manalapan: Town will adapt seawall standards, rather than start from scratch

A jogger passes a pile of steel that has been removed to make
way for new seawalls in Manalapan.  Fifteen seawalls
are currently being replaced in the wake
of Hurricane Sandy. Jerry Lower/
The Coastal Star

By Tim O’Meilia

Manalapan town commissioners rejected a $150,000 proposal to develop seawall standards from scratch and decided to write their own regulations.

Commissioners unanimously decided to borrow from the town of Palm Beach’s laws on seawall construction and adapt them to the town’s own circumstances, including separate rules for oceanfront and Intracoastal bulkheads. 

Whatever new regulations are eventually approved will not apply to the 15 seawalls that have been rebuilt since Hurricane Sandy blustered off shore in October, damaging numerous seaside properties when storm surge topped seawalls for several days. 

“The $150,000 seems to me to be excessive,” said Mayor Basil Diamond at the Feb. 26 Town Council meeting. “Let’s adopt standards then require periodic certification by the owners.”

In January, the commission asked longtime consultant Taylor Engineering to come up with a proposal to set standards, including an inventory of all seawalls in town, surge modeling to develop a choice of seawall strength and the standards themselves. Merely writing two sets of standards for ocean and Intracoastal would cost $70,000.

The town also sought proposals from other firms but no others submitted any.

“Since the town is not going to undertake to build seawalls, why are we going through all this?” Diamond said. 

Until 10 years ago, the town oversaw repair and upkeep of the oceanfront seawalls, assessing individual homeowners for the cost in 1965 and 1985. But landowners balked at proposed repairs in 2001 and a town charter change in 2003 made homeowners responsible for maintaining their own walls. 

Although the state Department of Environmental Protection regulates seawalls, no hard and fast standards are in place, including no requirements for periodic certification by an engineer. The town’s primary requirement was that no sand leak through the wall from behind. 

During Sandy, the storm surge lapped the seawalls, saturating the land behind the walls and causing them to collapse seaward. Other seawalls that were in disrepair and failed also contributed to the collapse of neighboring seawalls.

Now, using Palm Beach’s standards as a template, town officials will propose regulations, including height, material and separate standards for oceanfront and Intracoastal seawalls.

The proposed standards will include seven suggestions by town building official Bob Donovan, including thickness, return-wall length and ability to withstand a similar storm.

The new rules likely will require current seawalls to have certification within five years and new seawalls perhaps 10 or 15 years.

The town also will seek the cost of having an engineer review the proposal. 

“We can come up with something to look at, rather than spending $34,000,” said Town Manager Linda Stumpf. 

The town will have a few months to write the new standards since turtle nesting season began March 1 and construction on the beach is prohibited until the end of October.                                  Ú

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