By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
An Ocean City condominium complex often inundated by stormwater will be getting a lift – literally – to elevate it above flood levels.
The city has been awarded a $3 million federal grant to raise the seven-building Ocean Aire condos at 43rd Street and West Avenue in the south end of town.
“This is monumental. To my knowledge, this has never been done before on the East Coast,” City Council President Bob Barr said of the elevation of so many buildings.
A construction contractor hired by Ocean Aire will pick up each building off the ground and then will erect a massive cinder block nine feet high underneath. The buildings will be placed on top of the cinder blocks to raise them above flood levels.
“We’re 6.1 feet above sea level now. When the project is done, we’re going to be 13 feet,” said Steve Sinibaldi, vice president of the Ocean Aire condominium association.
Sinibaldi explained that the newly announced $3 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to pay for the entire project.
“This is 100 percent coverage for doing all seven buildings,” he said.
Stormwater spills out of the adjacent marshlands and bay and leaves the Ocean Aire condos vulnerable to chronic flooding. Sinibaldi said the floodwater is so deep at times that it touches the first-floor windows and will soak the insulation on the condo units.
“We come close to losing our insulation on the first floor with every storm. It does come up to our windows,” he said.
Individual homes at the shore often are built on top of piles or on a concrete foundation to elevate them above flood level, but the Ocean Aire project involves raising an entire complex of seven condo buildings – one building at a time and 52 units in all.
“This is a landmark project,” Barr said.
Barr pointed out that every single condo owner at Ocean Aire had to agree to the elevation project. An objection from just one owner would have blocked it.
“If just one had said no, this project would not be possible,” Barr said.
The work is tentatively scheduled to begin in November and will take three to four months to complete, Sinibaldi said.
W.A. Building Movers & Contractors Inc., a New Jersey-based company that will do the work, is confident that the project will go smoothly, he pointed out.
“They’re going to raise the buildings up on a temporary lift. Then they reset the buildings on concrete blocks,” Sinibaldi said.
Sinibaldi believes that a gap underneath an abandoned railroad track behind the Ocean Aire complex is to blame for flooding that seeps out of the marshlands. The city is exploring ways to reduce flooding in the area surrounding Ocean Aire and other parts of the south end of town.
The Ocean Aire condos fall within the Fourth Ward City Council district that Barr represents. Since he first took office in 2016, Barr has been working with the condo owners on ways to protect their complex from floodwater.
Along with thanking his condominium association members, Sinibaldi said he was grateful to Barr and Ocean City for their assistance with the FEMA grant.
The FEMA funding came from a grant application the city submitted in 2019 on behalf of Ocean Aire. The condo owners had to kick in $40,000 just to make the application.
“This was a lot of hard work getting it done,” Barr said
Barr credited the collaboration between the condo association and different levels of government for the successful grant.
“This is a great example of great government,” he said.
Barr also expressed his thanks to Mayor Jay Gillian, the city’s Chief Financial Officer Frank Donato and U.S. Rep Jeff Van Drew for their help.
Van Drew represents the Second Congressional District, which includes Ocean City. Barr said Van Drew’s relationship with FEMA on federal projects at the shore over the years was influential in securing the $3 million grant.
“When you have those connections, it really makes a difference,” Barr said.
U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey were part of the formal announcement Friday that Ocean City was awarded the FEMA grant. They also announced that a separate $5 million grant will be used to elevate 22 flood-prone homes in Fairfield, Essex County
“The elevation of flood-prone homes is an important part of New Jersey’s long-term resiliency efforts and provides families much-needed peace of mind,” Booker said in a statement. “This federal investment will strengthen New Jersey communities, help mitigate against future disasters, and save lives.”