Middletown – With scientific predictions indicating that a rise in sea level by mid-century could be anywhere from 18 inches to three feet, Monmouth County and NWS Earle officials joined in a Land Use Study to determine how both can work best together in preparing for future flood devastation as had been experienced    by both NWS Earle and local communities during Super Storm Sandy five years ago.

Dennis Blazak, Community planning and Liaison Officer for NWS Earle, said, “we have to think about the future.”

The first invitation for local residents to have input into that Joint Land Use Study focusing primarily on development options in Monmouth County with relationship to NWS Earle kicked off at an open meeting at the Thompson Park Visitor Center Tuesday evening. Monmouth County Freeholder Director Lillian Burry and CAPT. Jay Steingold, commanding officer at NWS Earle, encouraged residents to become more involved and more aware of health, safety and welfare issues in future development of the area.

Director Burry noted that the County received a $206,000 grant from the Department of Defense last year to prepare a joint study for the local Navy installation. The County is providing $32,500 in staff time and materials to match the federal grant, and has named a Consultant Project Team headed by the County Division of Planning to carry the study to its completion by the end of this year. The County retained a team of experts headed by Maser Consulting to work on the study whose primary purpose is to enable the County and the Department of Defense to work together ensuring that land use planning in the county will not constrict the effectiveness of the military installation and its mission.

The Study was conceived primarily as a result of the damages Monmouth County municipalities as well as the three mile long trident pier at the Navy’s Leonardo installation incurred during Super Storm Sandy. It is unique, Burry pointed out, in that climate adaptation planning is a major component of the study. “Both Earle and surrounding communities can benefit from recommendations emanating from this study which will improve sustainability resulting from rising sea levels and coastal storms,” the director said. 

Steingold pointed out that in addition to so many Bayshore communities suffering severe damage and destruction in the wake of Sandy, the Navy also incurred  $31 million in damages to the three mile long trident pier at the Leonardo installation, a vital location in the nation’s strategic ordnance requirements. As the largest weapons station on the East Coast, the base supplied well over 90 per cent of all ammunition used during Operation Desert Storm, he said, part of the Navy’s ongoing mission that began here in 1943 when the base was first established. 

Primary goals for the study are to seek and review information from each of the five municipalities in which Earle is located….Middletown, Colts Neck, Howell, Tinton Falls and Wall Township, as well as the eight municipalities impacted by the military influence: Atlantic Highlands, Highlands, Eatontown, Farmingdale, Neptune and Ocean. Navy facilities include 11,851 acres at Colts Neck and Leonardo, in addition to Normandy road and the railroad corridor, and the pier complex itself.   The study also hopes to include information from the municipalities  which are within the watersheds of the Navesink and Swimming rivers, as well as Raritan and Sandy Hook bays. A further aim is to help both military and civilian neighborhoods improve post-storm resiliency and ensure preservation, protection and post-storm resiliency of major roadways including the Garden State Parkway, all state highways in northern Monmouth County and I-95. Such planning, Steingold pointed out, would help the base keep operational while at the same time protect the sustainability of the communities.

In response to questions about whether this study has any impact on proposed Navy plans to open housing at the Colts Neck facility to more public use, Blazek and Steingold both stressed there is no connection between the ongoing discussions on housing and this Department of Defense funded study.

On questions concerning whether Congressional approval of the study costs mean NWS Earle will not be considered in any future BRAC decisions, Blazak good naturedly pointed out “that’s way above my pay grade level.” There are  no indications Earle is being considered for closure, however, and the Navy is eager to move ahead with the land use study for protection in future decades.

The study will take into consideration water and sewage lines as well as the roadways and how all are impacted by flooding and super storms. “The Navy will take care of its own problems from flooding and storms,” Blazak said, “but we want to work with the county concerning the infra structure outside the Navy limits as well.”

Burry said there were be additional public meetings as different milestones in the study are reached, and efforts will continue to seek citizen input throughout the process. “I strongly encourage all of you to sign up for project updates and keep an eye out for the project web site which is in the process of being established,” the director said, “we’re happy and appreciative of having the Department of Defense and its commanding officers at Earle being such enthusiastic and willing partners in the effort to protect all of Monmouth County in improving post-storm resiliency.”