Photo by Jack Reynolds. Even during a recent snow traffic remains on Route 72 in Stafford Township.
To quantify, by dictionary definition, is simply to express or measure the quantity or amount of something. If only quantifying an increase in the population of the five mainland towns in the Long Beach Island region for the last quarter of 2020 into this year were as easily definable.
From almost the beginning of the pandemic, there seemed to be a mass exit of individuals and families from hot-spot areas to such places as Barnegat, Stafford, Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor townships. All four municipalities have waterfront areas and a plethora of outdoor activities, and are far enough away from hot spots for people to feel as if life is somewhat normal.
“It feels as if there are some more (people), but it’s really hard to know for sure if the year-round population has gone up during the past year because of COVID,” Stafford Township Mayor Greg Myhre said. “We definitely know there’s an increase in the summer. But the only true indicator on whether our year-round population has gone up is the census, and we don’t have those numbers yet.”
To Myhre’s point, Stafford saw an increase in trash pickup beginning in March 2020 from the previous year and continuing through September of last year, the last month the trash numbers were available.
Trash collection in Stafford jumped 66.84 tons to 240.71 tons in March and 66.12 tons to 213.55 in April before leveling off considerably in May. The May 2020 trash collection numbers were still an increase over 2019, by 12.43 tons. In June, trash collection saw a spike of 35.38 tons from the previous year for a total of 427.14 tons collected, and that number continued to increase in July, which saw the largest increase in tax collection numbers since April with a total hike of 61.47 more tons of garbage collected in 2020 than in July 2019.
The tons of trash collected in August dropped by 13.74, still an increase over August 2019, for a total of 266.55 tons. The figures were provided by Stafford Township Administrator Matthew R. von der Hayden.
September saw the largest hike in trash collection for the six-month period since the beginning of the pandemic with a 91.41-ton increase, for a total of 332.58 tons picked up.
“People around town might notice there are some more people in certain places, but that may be because they’re here for short periods of time,” Myhre said. “If somebody owns property in town, we don’t have many ways of knowing if that person is using the property full time. Other than the census, there’s nothing concrete that can truly tell us if we’ve had a population increase.”
Still, there was an average daily increase of traffic along a portion of Route 72, especially in December 2020, according to weigh motion sensors located on the state highway just west of the Causeway to LBI at milepost 25, Stephen Schapiro, deputy director of communication for the state Department of Transportation, said earlier this month.
“It’s important to note there are several intersections between the sensors and the bridge to the Island,” he said.
In December 2019, the daily average traffic count on a Sunday was 5,905. That figure jumped by 2,507 in December 2020 for a total daily average traffic count of 8,421.
Monday and Tuesdays in December 2020 also saw busy traffic with an increase of 1,134 for a total of 9,390 cars traveling along a portion of Route 72. Tuesdays in December 2020 saw a hike of 3,253 for the daily average traffic count for a total of 9,677.
While traffic was still up on Wednesdays in December 2020 over the previous year, the 1,824 count was almost half of Tuesday traffic for the same time period. The average daily traffic count for Wednesdays in December 2020 was 9,179. It was 7,355 in December 2019.
Surprisingly, the daily average declined by 220 cars for Thursdays in December 2020 for a total of just 8,445. In December 2019, the total was 8,665. The traffic rebounded on Fridays, with an increase of 1,428 cars traveling Route 72 for a total of 8,312 for the daily average and declined by 46 cars on Saturdays for a total of 8,179.
While the daily average traffic count continued to increase into January of this year, the figures are, in some cases, considerably lower than in December 2020 with the exceptions of the weekends.
Sunday traffic in January of this year was up 2,208 over the same time last year, which had a daily average traffic count of 5,564. On Mondays, the daily average was up by only 686 for a total of 8,954 last month. The traffic count on Tuesdays in January was up by 212 over the 7,758 from January 2020; on Wednesdays, the daily average saw a 311 hike over the 8,123 from the same time last year, and on Thursdays, traffic jumped by 468 for a total of 8,677 last month.
Whether everyone was where they needed or wanted to be for the weekend is uncertain, but the traffic numbers for Fridays last month dropped by 161 for a daily average of 8,540.
The largest spike in daily average traffic was on Saturdays with 3,634 more vehicles traveling on Route 72 than the same time in the pre-pandemic world, for a total of 9,238. In January 2020, the average daily total was 5,604.
While the traffic numbers tell a story of an increase in motorists traveling Route 72 during the winter, they don’t tell who is going where and for what reason. Could it be Instacart shoppers, or people working from home who need a break and take it by going to pick up their own grocery orders? Maybe.
Just north of Stafford, in Barnegat Township, Mayor Albert Bille estimated 10 percent of the town’s approximate population of 24,000 is seasonal. The seasonal residential areas include the lagoon community of Pebble Beach and homes along the bay front on Bayshore Drive and East Bay Avenue.
“In our adult communities, I would say about 20 percent go to Florida for the winter,” he said.
Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor have seen varying impacts for the year-long COVID-19 pandemic emergency. Little Egg has seen a spike in water usage and in sewer discharge, and Tuckerton has seen its garbage tonnage increase.
Little Egg Harbor Township Municipal Utilities Authority Director Earl Sutton said he feels the increase in water usage has to do with people working from home.
“It’s absolutely affected our numbers,” he said Feb. 5 during a telephone interview. “We know in Mystic Island more waterfront houses are being occupied past the summer, as we got fewer notices to shut off the water, and there are still people coming back online from Superstorm Sandy.”
With more people at home, including students who are working remotely, there are more toilet flushings, showers and dishwashing.
“We’ve collected and sent almost 19 million gallons (of wastewater) more to the Ocean County Utilities Authority and have been billed an additional $76,000 that we didn’t budget for,” said Sutton.
Four hundred seventy million gallons were discharged to the sanitary system this year, he said, and “unfortunately, it also contained a lot of items that have caused maintenance problems, including non-flushable wipes (that are marketed as flushable but are not), gloves and masks – all kinds of stuff.”
Grease poured down drains or flushed also continues to be costly to the MUA.
Little Egg Harbor Chief Financial Officer and interim Administrator Rodney Haines said he couldn’t say that there were more people staying in Mystic Island or Osborn Island than in previous, COVID-free, years.
“Our garbage tipping fees went up, but that’s because the Ocean County solid waste facility upped their tonnage fees. The increase in fees was exactly what we anticipated it to be,” Haines said.
As for the garbage collection, he said that in the beginning of the pandemic when people were ordered to stay home, residents seemed to be doing more spring cleaning of their garages and houses and more trash was on the streets for pickup. But he said that over the year there was not much of an increase.
“A lot of our waterfront residents are year-round residents, and our summertime trash was actually down a bit. That may be because there were fewer parties and families visiting, but I really don’t know that for a fact,” Haines said.
What is certain is the number of people working from home and students learning from home has not significantly dropped off since the beginning of the pandemic, and that means an increase of internet service usage.
Before March 1, 2020, the peak traffic on Comcast’s network for both downstream and upstream was 9 p.m. In May, the downstream peak was 7:30 p.m., and the upstream was from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., according to a May 2020 COVID-19 response paper put out by the company.
Weekday usage was up 210% to 285% during the first few months of the pandemic, including a 30% to 40% spike for VPN, or virtual private network, users. The only decline was on Xfinity Mobile, with a 17% decrease in long-term evolution data usage, but there was a 36% increase in data usage over wireless connection, according to the May response paper.
“For the full year, we grew customer relationships by 1.6 million, a 41% increase year-over-year with 455,000 net additions in the fourth quarter, driven by high-speed internet, where we added 2 million net new residential and business customers this year and 538,000 in the fourth quarter,” Jennifer Bilotta, vice president of communications for Comcast, said earlier this month.
— Staff Report