But many still sufferingBy Muriel J. Smith and Danielle SchipaniPhotographs may have told the story three years ago, but stamina, hope, and spirit have painted an entirely new picture three years after Super Storm Sandy swept through the Bayshore, Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach taking homes, buildings, and lifetimes of memories away with it.And today, people in those towns are still struggling but have already proven their determination that no storm, including one as historic as Sandy, is going to keep them from living their lives.HighlandsHighlands Borough Administrator Tim Hill can tell the story in statistics for his community: more than $10 million in property damage to borough property alone; untold millions in damage to hundreds of people who live here, some of whom are still patiently – or impatiently – waiting for promised help, some of whom have called it a day and moved on, leaving their properties up for sale.It takes a lot to live past having three to eight feet of water in your home.But others have taken positive stands and fought back valiantly, although with an immense amount of frustration over paperwork, time constraints, and bureaucracy, Hill said.In total, 128 residences have been demolished, including about 60 in the trailer park that used to have that spectacular setting directly on Sandy Hook Bay. The trailers are gone, the owners have moved on, and the property is currently under construction for luxurious new condominiums. Sandy Hook Bay Marina is also gone, and rising in its stead is a modern new marina complete with a lighthouse filled with amenities for boat owners and a top-of-the-line restaurant with unsurpassed views of Manhattan.Another 245 permits have been issued for elevation of homes, Hill said, people who want to stay exactly where they are, albeit the 12 or 14 feet above sea level FEMA now demands. All of these permits represent work either under way or already completed.Another 64 permits have been issued for new housing, Hill continued, with more permits issued for renovations.About 40 to 50 properties have been abandoned. The borough is working with the Department of Community Affairs now looking to the possibility of demolition of some of these sites, Hill said, hopeful that another 20 will be able to be demolished for improvements to the entire neighborhood.Photo by Tina ColellaWorking through all the agencies, filing all the plans, meeting all the requirements and still running the routine business of the community isn’t an easy task, but Hill has risen to meet every obligation. He is continuing to work closely with FEMA and the other agencies in order to negotiate the best financial assistance the borough can get for its own municipal building. Located on Bay Avenue and completely devastated by Sandy, the governing body is still trying to make the determination of what is the best move for renewal. FEMA and other agencies have not yet determined the amount of financial assistance they will give; the governing body is waiting for that figure to see whether it’s more feasible to rebuild on site, which leaves the borough offices still within the 500-year flood plan, or move to higher ground with another facility. Hill, who has been working on the project closely with all agencies since Sandy, remains hopeful a final decision will be reached by the end of the year. In the meantime, the police department is working out of multiple trailers at a 27 Shore Drive address, borough offices are located in more trailers at a 42 Shore Drive address, and the construction office is located at 19 Bay Ave. in yet another trailer.“Overall, I’d say we’re only at 50 percent recovery,” the administrator said, “but I can’t begin to tell you how incredible the people of Highlands are. What they have done on their own, how they have given life to their own property is beyond description. The council will do the best it can with the funding it gets. But it still has to face the infrastructure issues…repairs, repaving of roads, routine maintenance of all our utilities. There’s a lot that still has to be done.”Atlantic HighlandsIn Atlantic Highlands, the neighboring community that for the most part sits higher above sea level than Highlands had approximately $3 million in damages outside of the $22 million in devastation at the municipal yacht harbor. Most of the property damage was on the west side of First Avenue in the area of Many Mind Creek, according to borough administrator Adam Hubeny, since the deluge from Sandy caused the creek to overflow and damage homes and businesses. Hubeny estimated that approximately 100 homes suffered little to moderate damage, and a few had to be torn down. Of six that were substantially damaged he said, one is currently being rebuilt, four have been completed, and one owner has had his house demolished and has the property for sale.The administrator also pointed to the frustration residents have had to face, saying many are still being frustrated by all the regulations, paperwork and requirements that have to be accomplished to meet government standards.Photo by Tina Colella“We had substantial damage at the harbor, there is no denying that,” Hubeny said, “but that’s business, and boats. And while that is bad enough, it isn’t people’s homes and lives. This is what makes the $2 million in land loss so devastating. If there’s any one thing that has come out of Sandy,” he said, optimistically, “it’s that valuable lessons have been learned about preparing for storms, heeding messages and taking swift actions when necessary.”Harbor Commissioner Jane Frotton, lamented the frustration residents feel and concedes the Harbor Commission was fortunate to have connections at several levels of government that enabled them to get funds and have their renovations completed.Frotton was chairman of the Harbor Commission during Super Storm Sandy and, being on-site immediately after the storm sizing up the total damages in the millions, she quickly contacted Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. “I was on the commission during the 1992 nor-easter,” Frotton said, “and comparing this to the damage we had then, I knew we were upwards of $20 million and needed all the help we could get.”Guadagno put the commission in touch with the correct state officials and offices and authorizing the borough to waive time consuming permit applications. Congressman Frank Pallone responded to calls to his office with immediate federal aid, securing thousands of dollars for the community, and businessmen leasing commission property took renovations into their own hands as well. “Bernie Sweeney was out there the day after Sandy sweeping up glass, clearing debris, working hard on the Shore Casino,” Frotton recalls. “He suffered a lot of damage to the interior of the restaurant and the Harbor insurance on its buildings could never cover the amount of damage so many received. But working together, and doing so much on his own, Bernie was able to still cater a large scheduled event by February.” The harbor also saw damage to more than 600 boats, both in the water and on land storage.But today, the harbor is fully operational, has a waiting list for slips at the new floating docks and never lost a season of operation, being able to operate on a more limited basis the first spring after the storm. The tow boat building which was destroyed in now being rebuilt, and just about everything in the water, with the exception of pilings, has been replaced with more storm-resilient materials. “Our people were strong, aggressive, and worked hard to get the job done as a team,” Frotton said, adding her praise to Hubeny’s concerning the residents and business population of the borough.Sea BrightSea Bright is among the towns that have seen improvements in the last three years since the super storm. “Sea Bright in comparison to other towns has rebounded very well,” said Christopher Wood, board member of the nonprofit organization Sea Bright Rising. “It is an ongoing process and I look forward to more improvement over the next few years. Sea Bright has a pulse, there is no doubt about it. There are new businesses and it will look a lot different even two years from now. The town continues to improve which is encouraging.”Photo by Tina ColellaSea Bright Rising raised over $1.3 million that was used to help 300 families and 18 businesses in the town. “Sea Bright Rising had a very big part in getting a lot of people back to their homes. Three years after sandy the organization has run its course and I would say that the mission is about 80 percent complete, maybe even a little higher,” said Wood.However, there is still work to be done in Sea Bright. “There are always things that need to be done,” said Ilene Winters, member of the board of directors of Sea Bright Rising. “There are some businesses that haven’t come back. There is also the issue that what is going to happen with the abandoned homes. There is a very large group of abandoned homes and they cannot stay vacant forever.”“At some point the town has to take some action on the abandoned properties. It is an eyesore and reflects poorly on the improvements that have been made. It takes time and money but should be addressed,” said Wood.But the beach clubs, many of which were destroyed, were back in full swing this summer, Tim McLoone’s Rumrunner is being rebuilt and a new restaurant Tommy’s is enjoying a great deal of popularity. The downtown area still shows some wear and tear but Donovan’s Reef was operating from the beach this summer and hopes to build a full service bar and restaurant by next season.Mayor Dina Long is pleased with the town’s recovery. “Three years after Sandy Sea Bright is doing better than many people thought we would, especially considering the damage Sea Bright sustained in Super Storm Sandy,” she said. “We’ve seen 75 percent of residents and businesses come back but we still have a significant amount of work to do as a borough. We need to rebuild our municipal facilities and to make our infrastructure more resilient for the future.”Sea Bright lost four municipal buildings in Sandy, which the town will begin to rebuild in 2016, the mayor said. The borough will also identify additional flood mitigation projects is seeking funding for.“I think we learned a number of lessons from Sandy the hard way about the risks associated with where we live and the fact that anything can happen and you need to be prepared,” Long stressed. “ We also learned a lot about ourselves individually and our ability to cope and deal with extraordinary circumstances.”Monmouth Beach“Our takeaway from Sandy is that we must build to the National Flood Insurance Program regulations,” said Susan Howard, mayor of Monmouth Beach. “Houses in the town that complied with those regulations were safe during Sandy. Our focus is to make sure that everything that is done to rebuild our town complies with those regulations and is built for the 500-year storm so that we will be safe in the case of future storms..”Photo by Tina ColellaHoward explained that Monmouth Beach is working towards ensuring the safety of businesses and homes in the area by lifting buildings above the FEMA minimum. “We are raising to the Advisory Base Flood Elevation plus 3 feet, so we are going to the FEMA minimum and adding 3 feet because we want to elevate to prepare for a 500-year storm. Any new construction that has occurred we built at a higher level” she explained.The Channel Club has been repaired and is fully operational. The former Sally Tee’s has been rebuilt and is flourishing as The Beach Tavern and the devastation that once had hold of the town has basically vanished with some exceptions.And the ever-popular Monmouth Beach Cultural Center is holding receptions and showcasing local art.