"Clearly the economics of this situation dictate that Sea Bright is not worthy of salvation, although politics and other considerations may decide otherwise," the study asserted. "The prudent management alternative in this community would be the gradual removal or relocation of the buildings."
Talking about post-storm retreat is one thing; actually doing it has proven much harder.
After Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans in 2005, there was talk of abandoning some of the most flood-prone areas. But a proposal from a storm panel excluded the hard-hit Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East, a neighborhood long home to affluent and upper-middle-class black families, touching off an uproar that scuttled the plan.
More than seven years later, much of New Orleans is thriving: unemployment is relatively low, the tourism industry is healthy, the city is preparing to host a Super Bowl, and no neighborhood has been abandoned.
But not everyone has come back. As of July 2011, the Census Bureau estimated New Orleans' population at 360,740, less than three-quarters its population in 2000. In the Lower 9th Ward, vacant lots and abandoned homes dominate the landscape, and four out of five residents who lived there before the storm have left.
The question of whether to rebuild or retreat touches many East Coast communities.
Westerly, R.I. recently got $1.1 million in federal money to buy eight low-lying properties near the Pawcatuck River that are frequently flooded. In North Carolina, some have called for deserting Highway 12 -- the only land link between Hatteras Island and the mainland -- in favor of a ferry system after Hurricane Irene and Sandy caused $14 million in damages. A state panel in Delaware found few affordable options as it considered what to do about seven Delaware Bay communities threatened by storms and rising sea levels.
Sea Bright is requiring homeowners to raise their rebuilt properties higher -- as much as 17 feet above sea level in some cases -- if they want to qualify for federal flood insurance.
Frank and Dee Kurzawa, whose home near the river took on 4 feet of water, could have to spend $30,000 to raise it. Yet they're staying put, even if it's a little higher than before.
"Even with the possibility of this happening again, we're coming back," said Dee Kurzawa. "We plan to pass this house on to our grandchildren."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie considers strategic retreat from some storm-damaged areas on the table "in a broad way," but said he wants to leave the ultimate decisions to individual towns after giving them advice later this week on how to rebuild.
Part of a neighbor's home broke loose and smashed through the wall of Karen Finkelstein's Sea Bright home. She's still "shell-shocked" in Sandy's aftermath, but can't see herself leaving.
"I want to see us come back, but with precautions in place," she said. "You're taking a risk by choosing to live in this area. But when it's home to you, it's really hard to leave the familiar place where your roots are."
Associated Press writers Eileen AJ Connelly in Staten Island N.Y., Kevin McGill in New Orleans, Michelle Smith in Westerly, R.I., Martha Waggoner in Raleigh N.C. and Randall Chase in Dover, Del. contributed to this story.