BEACH HAVEN, NJ —In the picturesque shore town of Beach Haven, New Jersey, its biggest asset is also its biggest problem. Rising sea levels are causing a significant amount of nuisance flooding, forcing residents to adapt and town leaders to find a solution.
"Our life is run by the tides, the moon cycle and the storms," said Jaime Baumiller, who lives in Beach Haven year-round with her family.
Baumiller keeps a tide chart on their refrigerator and references it every day to know if flooded streets will prevent her from getting off the island to her job.
"We have to plan our lives based on the weather of the tides," said Baumiller. "If you live here, you have to do that."
She's not the only one impacted.
"People kayak down the road," said Judy Miller, the office manager of Buckalew's Restaurant in Beach Haven, who helped see the restaurant through Hurricane Sandy. "They take their kayaks and that's how they get around."
Rising sea levels are putting the island's future in jeopardy.
"Seventh Avenue, right in front of Fantasy Island, gets water almost daily whether it rains or not," said Miller.
Some don't know if their homes have a future.
"I really am fearful that in the next 50 years from now, there may not be an island here," said Beach Haven Mayor Nancy Davis. "It's possible."
According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, by 2030, rising sea levels will jeopardize $1.5 billion worth of real estate in the Beach Haven area. By 2045, more than half of the town's homes are at risk of becoming chronically inundated by floodwaters.
Several real estate agencies on Long Beach Island told PIX 11 that what they are seeing contradicts the scientists' data. They said home prices are rising, demand is steady and homes are going quickly off the market.
Real estate prices have historically been lower on the bay-side of Long Beach Island, where it's now normal to see flooded streets on sunny days.
"Once the tide gets one foot above normal, what you do is, you have water coming out of the storm drains on the bay and flooding the streets," said Beach Haven Councilmember Don Kakstis, who is leading the charge to find a solution to the flooding crisis.
The Army Corps of Engineers is currently conducting a storm risk management study along the Jersey Shore, but it is not scheduled to be complete until 2026.
In the meantime, Beach Haven is investing $3 million into pumping stations that will direct water back into the bay before it can flood the streets.
"Those pumping stations will pump between 2,000 and 4,000 gallons [of water] a minute back into the bay," explained Kakstis.
The pumping stations will help, until the water goes over the bulkheads, which happens several times every year. In those instances, residents are at the mercy of mother nature.
Businesses have barriers ready to go. This is something they've never had before.
Unlike homes, which are often raised, businesses have to ride out bad weather from ground level.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, New Jersey has the most commercial properties in the nation at risk of chronic flooding in 2045.
"Everyone has emergency management plans in place for businesses, you have to," said Miller.
According to Rutgers University, sea level is rising faster along the Jersey Shore than the global average. In the 20th century, it rose 16 inches. Scientists think it's the fastest rate in the last four centuries.
Residents and local leaders have theories as to why this has all happened.
"The police have said that before [Hurricane] Sandy, they rarely ever closed the boulevard," said Davis. "Since Sandy, they've closed it 40 times."
Baumiller blames overdevelopment.
"We keep building on top of each other, and then we tear down and then we build higher and bigger," said Baumiller.
But some are considering other causes.
"I think it's global warming," said Kakstis. "No doubt about it in my mind."
Leaders are also trying to revive barrier islands and create more living shorelines with oysters, clams and mussels that will absorb water.