The current approach to protecting the bay side of towns seems to be “leaves it alone.”
Nicholas Vene wants to help towns do just that, using thousands of pounds of leaves in tightly packed bales to build dunes planted with vegetation. The idea is that the bales, each one roughly four square feet in dimension and weighing more than an automobile, will stop storm surge and protect infrastructure.
But before Winter Storm Jonas, no one had tested whether leaves could be a viable solution to the growing problem of higher tides and worsening flooding. This southern Ocean County municipality was the first to experiment with the product, placing the bales in some of its most vulnerable spots prior to the Jan. 23-24 nor’easter.
“There was the potential to have leaves and debris all over,” said Patrick Donnelly, 35, the superintendent of Public Works who arranged for the township, at no cost, to receive 62 bales in a pilot program with Nature’s Choice. “It could have been embarrassing but it was a risk I was willing to take.”
Despite the lashing they received from the water and wind during Jonas and again during last week’s astronomically high tides, the 3,000-pound bales held. About 20 of them were still stacked at the end of Radio Road, banded together.
Donnelly estimated the township saved $10,000 in manpower and cleanup costs post-Jonas due to the protective power of the bales of leaves. He said he could envision a future where the bales not only shored up weak spots along the bay and lagoons of coastal states but provided a revenue stream to those towns looking to sell, rather than landfill, their leaves.
“It’s good to hear someone in government using his head,” said Frederic Snell, 62, who lives about a mile away from Great Bay and pays daily visits to the water.