The once-controversial beach dunes along stretches of the Jersey shore have now become Gov. Chris Christie’s go-to program for protecting the state’s beaches.
The governor went so far as to call opposition to dunes “extremely selfish and shortsighted” during a speech last month.
But at least one former member of an anti-dune group in the early 2000s said that opposition wasn’t based entirely on homeowners’ worries about losing their ocean views. There were actually a number of reasons, from environmental issues to cost.
Even today, said Glenn Klotz, of Margate, dunes may be inevitable post-Sandy, but they will not solve all of
the problems facing barrier islands.
“I’ll be the first one to say that the dune did its job,” Klotz said. “I would have been surprised had it not worked. ... But the Army Corps (of Engineers) told us the dunes were designed to handle a Category 1 hurricane and a small to mid-sized northeaster. Above that, if you asked the Army if this dune would work in a Category 3, a landfalling hurricane, you know what they told us? They said no.”
Dunes in Pensacola, Fla., he said, were not only “flattened” by the Category 3 Hurricane Ivan in 2004, “it took the whole system and threw it into the houses.”
“Extensive overwash of beach and dune sand across the barrier island from the Gulf shoreline landward occurred throughout the area,” a Florida state report said.
So how did Klotz get involved in dunes?
The group DUNE, Do not Upset our Natural Environment, was founded in 2000 to oppose a proposed Army Corps of Engineers project that would offer as much as $12 million in federal funds for dune construction on Absecon Island.
DUNE worked to get a referendum on the ballot in Ventnor to get the voters’ permission to join the project — and were surprised, Klotz said, when the Margate and Longport governing bodies approved ordinances requiring a referendum before any dune project.
DUNE got a referendum placed on the Ventnor ballot, but voters approved the project in 2002. Klotz disputed former Ventnor Mayor Tim Kreischer’s claim that DUNE exaggerated the eventual size of the dunes.
The height of the dunes was — and is — one of the biggest points of contention.
Dunes in Ventnor are lower and wider than Atlantic City’s, so people on the Boardwalk in Ventnor can see the ocean over the dunes. The height of the dunes in Atlantic City has long been an issue, with Pinky Kravitz and the Atlantic City Boardwalk Committee pushing for them to be lowered.
Ventnor dune proponents, including resident Julie Mealo, were also mindful of how high the dunes would be.
“We didn’t want the dunes to be too high,” Mealo said. “At the time, we were comparing them to dunes in the Outer Banks, N.C. They were very high, and we didn’t want them that big. At the time, we couldn’t really prove how big they would get — it was kind of like we had to take the money or not. But we went with it, and it turned out it was fine, and it worked great.”
For his part, Klotz said that the fact that the lower and wider Ventnor dunes still protected the Boardwalk means that the same configuration also could work in Atlantic City.
“Would Atlantic City have had substantial damage had the dunes been lowered?” Klotz asked. “All I can do is point to Ventnor.”
Klotz also said that dunes prevent beach blocks from draining into the ocean, which he said left those streets with standing water for days after the storm.
While Klotz agreed that dunes will have great effect on flooding in some places, such as the extremely narrow Long Beach Island, in places such as Margate and Ventnor, the real danger is from the bay.
“Why all the efforts on the beachfront and none of it on the real problem on the bay side?” he asked.
In the end, “the dunes were a tradeoff — and that was what DUNE was about. I don’t think we were necessarily wrong, and neither can Ventnor. We were both right. And the view still exists from the northern part of the Ventnor Boardwalk.”
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