Union Beach Residents Face Limited Options After Sandy

NJ Spotlight talks to Union Beach homeowners who can't afford to rebuild or remain.

In the self-described blue-collar borough of Union Beach, the frustrated pronouncement, “I’m still waiting for my money,” punctuates so many conversations that it's almost a refrain among homeowners who -- four months after Sandy -- have yet to receive the insurance checks that will help them cover critical home repairs or elevations or both.

Yet despite the prolonged uncertainty and displacement, they are the lucky ones.

Dozens of their neighbors in the Monmouth County town -- where half the population qualifies for low-income federal assistance -- have no insurance at all.

Union Beach is one of a handful of year-round Bayshore communities whose housing includes miniature bungalows, sometimes called “cottages,” that date to the beginning of the 20th century or earlier.

Some are occupied by descendants of the original owners or by seniors who bought and paid off the houses decades ago. On fixed incomes and with no mortgage to require insurance, some of these residents have opted to forego homeowner and flood policies.

For them, there is no check in the mail.

“When my husband and I bought this house in 1969, it had two bedrooms and a bathroom. We raised three kids here,” said Eileen Gubelman, a retired widow whose 37-by-36-foot cottage was one of 100 Union Beach homes demolished by the city this winter. Eighty more will come down before spring.

Collateral Damage

The cottage-count is only the beginning of Union Beach's catalog of losses.

Out of the 2,600 houses that make up the small boro (it only takes a few minutes to walk end to end), some 85 percent were flooded with at least two feet of water.

The boro also lost four firehouses and an ambulance squad. The K-8 school flooded and is still locked. And 14 police cars, four fire trucks, and three ambulances (fully reimbursable) were turned into scrap metal.

Gubelman is once again living with her adult children, but this time she rents a Cliffwood Beach apartment with her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren.

She’s not sure what to do with her property, given that she has no money to rebuild and fears that a new house on old ground may conjure up memories of her late husband, who passed away last month. He lived just four months longer than her mother.

“Who’s going to give a 68-year-old woman a mortgage with no income except Social Security?” she asked.

Going Up

If she does decide to rebuild -- possibly with a residential loan from the Small Business Administration -- she’ll have to raise her house at least two feet higher than the new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) base flood elevation maps dictate, to comply with Union Beach law.

But satisfying the minimum height requirements could mean that Gubelman will run afoul of the borough’s height maximums, which top out at 35 feet.

Luckily, Union Beach’s emergency management coordinator says Gubelman and others in her position can safely disregard the maximum height restrictions if and when they elevate, as long as they stay within their former footprint.

That’s because town officials realize they’ll probably have to adjust the 35-foot maximum to account for revised FEMA flood requirements, which will likely raise houses to a greater height.

Continue reading on NJ Spotlight.

NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

joseph cooney March 16, 2013 at 12:04 PM
funny how no one is getting ins. checks, let us normal people miss a payment and they cancell us. some lawmakers should go after these ins. companies, and make them send people thier checks, I really thought this storm would bankrupt the insurance industry, but I was totally wrong, now all my insurances have doubled and tripled, so what do they do with all our money... probably the same thing politicians do!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Joseph Cooney
Bill March 16, 2013 at 02:36 PM
Pnc mortgage will not release my insurance money until I hire a licensed contractor so I can get ripped off because they say they own my house while I have a mortgage but they don't pay the 60,000 dollars to raise it and put new foundation on there house, that I have to try and get from I.C.C. Insurance from FEMA but you have to pay first then hope they decide to give you money back meanwhile my flood insurance bill just came in mail where do they want me to get that from when they are holding my insurance money hostage really something needs to be done besides worrying about boardwalks and beaches elected officials take notice please and do SOMETHING please
tom nemec March 16, 2013 at 05:01 PM
if your mortgage contract does not say that you are not allowed self repair you are legally allowed to do it. my mortgage company tried that with me and it cost me 75 dollars to consult with a lawyer and now everything is fine. there is help out there New Jersey also has a free legal service it may take some time for them to get to you but they will help. also if you are not able to live in your home make sure you are being consistent and collecting FEMA rent insurance. we need to be proactive we need to contact the politicians and the governor's office and the newspapers.
tom nemec March 16, 2013 at 05:06 PM
I have spoken with the press and none of them had any idea insurance companies were withholding the ICC money. the office on banking and insurance of New Jersey told me there is nothing they can do to make the insurance companies pay ICC money up front. we need to get that word out there.
bd March 16, 2013 at 05:50 PM
"half the population is on federal assistance" is as far as l got, then i stopped caring.
Marilyn Viray March 16, 2013 at 10:12 PM
If you are not getting a fair settlement from your insurance company, contact a NJ licensed Public Adjuster, such as myself. I am helping numerous families in the bayshore area, readjusting their claims & getting them more money.
Bill Heller March 17, 2013 at 12:17 AM
Union Beach is facing a tough haul and much of what’s still going on here is heartbreaking, but I have no doubt we'll rebuild and keep much of the character in place. We have a good mayor and council and lots of Borough staff working hard to make that happen. However, we are still fighting with the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority, located in UB, over their plans to build a 38-story noisy Industrial Wind Turbine with blades each the size of a cell tower way too close to our homes. The last battle pre-Sandy was won by Union Beach when the Appellate Court in a unanimous decision ruled our Planning Board does have the final say and remanded the issue back to the board. The BRSA has yet to bring it before the board following the ruling. For a number of valid reasons, it would be a home-value killer. Besides, would you welcome one being installed just down the street from your home? The BRSA is on the ropes in this fight and state that they have put the issue on the back burner for now. The plant sustained $10 million in damages and has to deal with that. They also fear that the mercy rule (as in softball) may be invoked in the current climate. But that is precisely why the BRSA needs to abandon the IWT project now. The back burner only means that they will pursue the issue when the time seems right for them and they believe that UB has lost its will to fight. That will not happen. So for the love of Union Beach, STOP THE WIND TURBINE NOW!
Joe March 17, 2013 at 01:25 AM
Sorry Row 15, if you are on federal assistance, you are not hardworking. I am hardworking - you know, one of those people whose money is confiscated by Obama and the Democrats to buy votes. Anyone on federal assistance is contributing to the death spiral of this country. The hardworking people of Union Beach also have the add burden of having to support those on federal assistance. A national disgrace.
Joe March 17, 2013 at 01:26 AM
Looks like we have the one Monmouth County Barbara Buono voter.
Michael O'Hea March 19, 2013 at 01:36 AM
You must be kidding about the Wind Turbine! Almost 90% of the homes in town sustained flood damage because the Great Mayor and Council did not fund the Town's portion of the 2006 Army Corps of Engineers Flood Mitigation Plan that would have put in levees, seawalls, pumping stations and flood gates on the three creeks that inundated the town. You have your priorities backwards. Before the town rebuilds it needs flood protection, the lack of such has killed the home value of what remains of Union Beach. God forbid that a local entity harnesses the power of the wind. People have stood up and fought the Wind Turbine but have been lambs lead to the slaughter when it comes to the Army Corps of Engineers plan that was not funded by the Town! Here is the report from January 4, 2006. Ask your friends and neighbors if this would have helped save some homes from Sandy! http://planning.usace.army.mil/toolbox/library/ChiefReports/raritanbay_sandyhook_nj.pdf
Michael O'Hea March 19, 2013 at 01:39 AM
Union Beach has one of the highest Homeowner percentages in the state. Take a trip through Union Beach and meet the people that have endured more than most would stand and still have the guts to rebuild. Your comments are those of a moron!
Michael O'Hea March 19, 2013 at 01:55 AM
What is the status of the Flood Protection Plan from the Army Corps of Engineers? How can people rebuild when the Borough offers no protection from futurestorms. Read the January 4, 2006 report! http://planning.usace.army.mil/toolbox/library/ChiefReports/raritanbay_sandyhook_nj.pdf
Bill Heller March 19, 2013 at 02:18 AM
Michael...I do not disagree with you on the need to build a flood mitigation system throughout UB as well as the entire Bayshore. In a recent article on Mulshine's blog, Mayor Smith put the projected tab at $141 million for UB alone...and where will that money come from? We can only hope that some Federal funds will find there way here to get it started. However, the wind turbine is very valid issue too, and it would damage the town and make UB the place you really wouldn't want to buy a home in. The government wastes money on folly all the time...industrial wind being one such folly...that could otherwise be spent on necessary projects. But that's been the way of the world as long as I can remember. Only time will tell how much mitigation money finds its way to UB. Some homes in a few low-lying areas in Keansburg near the levee there had no damage. I wonder how much will be spent on raising homes and if that would be better spent on mitigation infrastucture.
Michael O'Hea March 19, 2013 at 03:10 AM
The Federal Funding was there for the Project, the Borough failed to raise their portion and also backed down from a petition signed by those that were more concerned about the "view" than protecting the town and their neighbors. I am well aware of you started the petition and their threat of legal action to stop the project. Their selfish reasons wrecked the town. Take a look around nobody is buying here not because of the potential wind turbine but because the town is in shambles, has poor leadership that allowed Volunteers and Church Groups to take over and is filled with nepotism and cronyism. Take a look at the recent sales closures in Union Beach and you will see land developers are buying up troubled properties. Guy Ferraro who received a sweetheart real estate deal on Brook Avenue after he built the over 55 homes in Ellison Ct now has his real estate on Brook Avenue for Sale at 1.2 Million. Get ready because the land vultures and speculators will be swooping in once the real estate bottoms out. Save your time and energy and take on a true cause to protect the town and your neighbors from storms that will be coming. The wind turbine did not do all the damage that we live amongst every day it was FLOODING!
Bill Heller March 19, 2013 at 03:45 AM
Mike....I supported the effort to not have berms on the beach, but was not the ring leader. The berms wouldn't have done it anyway and would always have preseneted a problem with blowing sand and kids using them to hide for all sorts of reasons, Keansburg flooded by the beach and their berms breached. If anything we need a sea wall there to give the town an extra 3 to 4 feet along that part of Front Street. Oddly, the beachfront is one of the higher parts of towm. As for carpetbaggers, that is a serios issue with the town moving forward. But I can send you countless studies and articles on the damage large industrial wind turbine installations do to small quiet towns like UB. That threat is real too. We have a lot to overcome here, and the BSRA IWT is still one of them...and I won't stop fighting that until it's a dead deal.
Michael O'Hea March 20, 2013 at 01:50 AM
Bill, keep fighting your fight you are at least ahead of everyone because an update can be found on the Union Beach Website for the Battle of the Turbine. You can find ZERO information on the Army Corps of Engineer study, recommendations and funding status. It was a typo on my previous message, I meant I know who started the petition. You did not start the petition but it did exist and many in town had no idea of the petition or the debates at Town Hall. Going against the Flood Protection was shortsighted by everyone. I agree that some would have failed during Sandy but having no protection certainly did not help. Union Beach is compromised by the flat landscape and the three creeks that carve through town. Unfortunately it appears that the town was happy to accept the tax base on the new townhomes on Front Street and probably performed no Hydrodynamic testing simulations on altering storm surge towards Brook and Prospect. Remeber before the Townhomes that was open land that flood waters would have rushed across the open plain.
Bill Heller March 20, 2013 at 02:34 AM
Mike...we can learn from what wasn't done and what happened...and the real question now is, " What action do we take with what money to help mitigate the next major tidal surge?" Sandy was an exceptional storm. Another Sandy is not likely to happen for many years, but the way statistics work a cluster of similar storms is possible. One of the things that killed the berm project was that it came up for a vote in Keyport and they voted it down. Another was the financial crash in 2008. This time out the will is there...I think...but will the money be there after all the other Sandy spending? We'll see what tomorrow brings.
Michael O'Hea March 20, 2013 at 03:13 AM
As of now the Mayor and Council have no plan to raise the local portion. The current Administration and previous Administrations have failed since 1992 to put a Flood Protection plan in place. Everyone gets lost on THE BERM. The plan was much more than just a berm. Many homes could have bee spared in Union Beach by controlling the Flood Surge up the Creeks. Take a look at the flood modeling of Union Beach, the Creeks are a major player in inundating homes right up to the Hazlet border and Route 36.


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