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Union Beach park, a sense of hope amid Sandy rebuild

Posted by Triton on November 1, 2014
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The banging of a hammer. The whirring of a drill. The beeping of a truck backing up.

These are nuisance noises in most neighborhoods. Not here along Front Street, two years after the Raritan Bay nearly swallowed this town during superstorm Sandy.

“That means people are going to be coming back soon,” said Christine Rollman, whose home on Central Avenue took on four feet of water. “I like when I’m driving through and see people moving back in.”

On this Tuesday morning Rollman was babysitting two toddlers at Fireman’s Park, a beautiful waterfront playground dedicated in honor of Newtown, Conn. school shooting victim Jack Pinto. The park opened in April of 2013, four months after the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary and five months after New Jersey’s storm of the century.

At first it was an oasis amid devastation. Slowly now, the area around it is coming back. There are three construction projects underway within earshot. A couple of houses are rebuilt on pilings.

Among the folks visiting Fireman’s Park, the feeling is captured in a word: Hopeful.

“It’s getting there,” said Jean Stiesi, a Port Monmouth resident who brought her granddaughter Ella to the playground. “I thought it was going to take a lot longer. I thought people would leave and never come back.”

Like everyone in this area, Rollman and Stiesi have Sandy stories. Rollman was put out for nine months, and it took a year before her entire house was restored. Stiesi took in her displaced sister for three months; her brother’s home was destroyed.

“Everyone I know in the neighborhood is positive,” Rollman said. “They feel like things are coming along.”

Yet there is much to be done. A story in Sunday’s Asbury Park Press by Todd B. Bates and Russ Zimmer put Union Beach’s recovery at 50 percent. The numbers are startling: 293 homes have been torn down, with 112 more to be demolished. There are 134 bank foreclosures in process. This in a town of two square miles.

Front Street still bears Sandy’s scars. To the left of Fireman’s Park, there are four vacant lots in a six-lot stretch. The only structures are fences with signs that read, “Private property. Keep out.”

To the right of the park, a three-story home remains partially dilapidated. “Closed circuit television and audio monitoring on premises,” a sign warns. The next lot over is a pile of rubble, with a front-yard statue the only thing standing.

The Raritan Bay laps quietly along the seawall, offering a picture-postcard view of Manhattan’s skyline and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the distance.

“It’s a beautiful area,” said Christopher Kantor, who accompanied his 2-year-old niece to the park. Kantor’s Oceanport home was flooded by two feet of water. It’s just about refurbished. “We’re taking our time and doing it right,” he said.

Time is healing, and so are determined people. Not in that order.

“It’s hard, especially after a storm like that,” Stiesi said. “But people love the area. This is where they’ve always lived and this is where they want to stay.”

Read the full article at app.com.

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