CAPE MAY — An experimental beach replenishment project designed to create a safer strand has left the east-end beaches littered with rocks.

The unintended consequences of last winter’s $9 million beach replenishment project come in all shapes and sizes. Most are somewhere between the size of a golf ball or baseball, but the sheer quantity of them has led the three partners in the project — the city, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Environmental Protection — to take action.

City Manager Bruce MacLeod on Tuesday said the Army Corps plans to award a nearly $160,000 contract to a Virginia firm to remove 3,300 tons of rocks from the beaches with an option to remove another 1,650 tons if needed. The work will begin on May 14 and be completed June 15, with no work being done for four days over Memorial Day weekend.

“Obviously, everybody is looking at that pristine, smooth, fine sand as the optimum beach situation. We’re happy they’re moving forward to do this stone removal,” said MacLeod.

The city will have to pay for some of the work but following the formula for the beach replenishment project it will only be 2.5 percent of the costs, or about $4,000. The Army Corps and DEP will pick up the rest of the tab.

The city pays for beach projects via its Beach Utility Fund, which is money from the sales of beach tags, so the users will ultimately pay for having a rockless strand.

The question of where the rocks came from has not been entirely answered. The project included pumping 620,000 cubic yards of sand from an offshore site to the U.S. Coast Guard base and that sand came in without any rocks. Offshore dredging operations use screens to remove rocks.

But the project also included an innovative experiment called “backpassing” that moved sand from larger beaches with steeper drop-offs to more eroded areas with lower shore breaks. The idea was to create a more gradual slope less dangerous for bathers.

About 70,000 cubic yards of sand was moved, most from between Trenton and Gurney streets to the Wilmington Avenue area. After this sand was moved the rocks started appearing.

“A side effect was a certain amount of gravel and stone on some of the beaches,” MacLeod said.

The rocks must have been in the sand that was moved from city beaches, though it was not on the surface or visible to the naked eye before the project. MacLeod theorized the rocks could have come in slowly during the city’s ten previous replenishment projects, sinking down and concentrating at a certain level. The stones look like they have been in a beach environmental for some time.

“They’ve been washed over. The rock is smooth,” MacLeod said.

The few beachgoers at this time of year, mostly anglers and walkers, don’t seem to mind.

Diane Heffernan, of Mullica Hill, Gloucester County, walked through the rocks on Monday with a metal detector, picking out chunks of beach glass and a single silver earring.

“It does have more rocks but people who walk the beach now like it because they beach comb. I like looking through the rocks,” Heffernan said.

City Council met Tuesday and talked about the schedule for the work, which will involve two tractors, two dump trucks and a loader.

“Can we make that equipment disappear over Memorial Day weekend?” asked Deputy Mayor Jack Wichterman.

The city will look into removing it from Friday, May 25, through Monday, May 28, and storing it in the public works yard.

The project calls for Reilly Construction to remove rocks along a 50-foot-wide swath covering 4,200 linear feet from Gurney Street to Trenton Avenue. The company will use tractor-drawn beach cleaning gear but with specialized tines made to pick up big rocks. MacLeod said it would get rocks larger than half an inch.

The work will be done 1,000 feet at a time with the public banned from that section of beach during the work. The operation will close down on weekends and the beaches will be open. If needed, the contract could be extended to other areas to collect more rocks. This would cost more money.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711