Margate’s beach dune opponents are questioning why their project is mandatory, while it seems one in the Wildwoods is optional, as stated by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official during a public hearing on the issue Friday.

The hearing was held in North Wildwood and involved residents and officials of North Wildwood, Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and Lower Township, which are included in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Environmental Protection’s $22 million project to create a 25,000-foot-long dune on Five-Mile Beach.

During the meeting, Brian Bogle, the project manager for the Army Corps, told those in attendance that the project was voluntary and was up to municipal officials in the four towns.

Stephen Rochette, a spokesman with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, explained that the Margate and Five-Mile Beach projects aren’t comparable. The main difference is the phase of the projects and the level of flexibility and adaptability during the phase, Rochette said.

The Absecon Island project, which includes Margate, is in the construction phase, while the Hereford Inlet to Cape May Inlet project, which includes the Wildwoods, is in the feasibility phase.

The feasibility stage includes the drafting of a report. Public input is permitted prior to the project being authorized by Congress or before any reports are finalized. Congress, in the Water Resources Development Act of 1996, already authorized the Absecon Island project, Rochette said.

“It is very difficult to implement adjustments once a project has reached this stage,” he said.

Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, confirmed this.

“The two projects are not apples to apples,” Hajna said.

Rochette also said the NJDEP is the non-federal sponsor and is the Army Corp’s direct link to the communities involved with the project.

“When a project is in the construction phase, we do everything in partnership with them, and they have asked us to proceed with preparing to construct the remainder of the Absecon Island project,” he said. “As far as the Hereford Inlet to Cape May Feasibility Report, we may still have time to make incremental adjustments in the feasibility phase that may appease the local communities. The Public Review Period is still open until March 10.”

“With Margate’s project, we have the money, we’re ready to go, while Wildwood projects is still a year and a half to two years out,” Hajna said. “The meeting in the Wildwoods the other day was about educating the public on a potential project.”

The Absecon Island dune project is expected to begin in late summer to early fall.

The project is proceeding despite a nonbinding referendum last November in which 64 percent of Margate’s voters opposed the dune and beachfill project.

Contact Elisa Lala:

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.