Because no government agency is responsible for maintaining Corsons Inlet, the waterway between the southern end of Ocean City and the northern tip of Strathmere is everyone’s problem.
“We just have to live with what they decide and suffer with it,” said Lynda Brown, an owner of the Deauville Inn, a waterfront restaurant located on the sand-clogged artery in the Strathmere section of Upper Township. “It’s up to us to try to make the best of it.”
“If you look toward the ocean, you only see sand and a little bit of water,” said Bill Shillingford, who has been fishing local waters for 60 years. “There’s a very narrow channel to get by the bridge,” he said of Corsons Inlet Bridge, “but if it’s less than half-tide, you can’t get through.”
“It’s definitely affected my business,” said Morgan Delany, who has owned Whale Creek Marina for eight years with his wife, Missy, in the Whale Beach section of Strathmere. “My rental boats could be fishing in the inlet and the back bays, but I have to tell people it’s off limits and they’re not allowed over there.”
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And customers who once rented boat slips from him have departed for deeper waters to the south, he said. “They were nervous about going out of Corsons Inlet,” Delany said, calling the conditions “hairy” and “dangerous.”
Shillingford, a resident of the Swainton section of Middle Township, labeled the inlet “treacherous.”
But while this year is the worst Delany says he has seen, the situation at Corsons Inlet is not new.
Before Hurricane Sandy in 2012, there was so much sand in the inlet that people could walk out almost a mile at low tide, the Coastal Research Center at Stockton University said.
“It’s been possible to walk from Ocean City to Strathmere in the last 20 years,” said Stewart Farrell, founder and director of the center, “but you’d have to be absolutely crazy to attempt it and you’d have to do it at dead low tide.”
“Our sandbar is getting bigger and bigger,” Brown said of the mass that continues to grow in front of her restaurant. “Soon it’ll be a part of the Deauville.”
She said water that was 14 feet deep by her docks as recently as 20 years ago is now ankle-deep at low tide, and the 52 boat slips and three dock boys she employed to direct boat traffic at that time have dwindled to fewer than 30 slips and no dock boys today — there isn’t enough water in the channel to support the boating community.
Instead, Brown said, her customers who arrive by water transport these days tend to come by kayak, paddleboard and personal watercraft, which all draw far less water than the sailboats and cigarette boats that once tied up at her docks for cocktails and spectacular sunsets.
How did it get so bad?
For Shillingford, 73, and Brown, whose father started tending bar at the Deauville in 1958, the storm of 1962 was the beginning of the end for Corsons Inlet. The four-day nor’easter that blew in March 1962 significantly reshaped the geography, Shillingford said, and led to the closing of the channel as a navigable one.
Jeff Gebert, chief of coastal planning for the Army Corps of Engineers, said Corsons Inlet “is not a federal navigation project, and New Jersey does not have a formal program for dredging inlets.”
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He added that while no agency is responsible for maintaining the channel, the Army Corps performed a dredge project that was funded by the state Department of Environmental Protection in the inlet in the 1970s, but “that was ad hoc dredging and not part of a long-term commitment to keep the inlet open to navigation.”
Decades of beach-replenishment projects and Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 accelerated the deterioration, depositing more sand into an already choked channel, longtime natives say.
The Army Corps agrees, to a point.
In the long term, Ocean City beach fills no doubt contribute, “but a Corsons Inlet shoaling problem would likely exist even if sand had never been placed on Ocean City or Strathmere,” Gebert said.
He said the natural sediment transport pattern in the region — toward the southwest — existed before sand was pumped onto Ocean City’s beaches. He said aerial photography “clearly shows the southwest end of Ocean City ‘growing’ toward Corsons Inlet between 1920 and the 1950s, when the first sand was artificially added to the Ocean City shoreline.”
And while the sediment transport pattern creates a gain of sand from Ocean City into Corsons Inlet, some sand from beach-fill projects in Strathmere has traveled northeast into Corsons Inlet, Gebert said. The current itself also brings sand into the channel when it flows through Corsons Inlet.
The DEP did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
What’s the future?
Delany and Brown said the problem is not limited to the area — it affects all of Cape May County.
“It’s killing everybody along the back bays,” Brown said. “All the sand they’re pumping is coming back to us.”
She said homeowners who spent thousands of dollars to build docks can’t use them because there isn’t enough water in the back bays to float their boats.
“It’s not just the people on the water,” Delany said. “It’s every motel, gas station and hoagie shop. What does New Jersey have? The beaches, the ocean, boating and fishing. We don’t have a ton of things left to bring people to our area. If you cut off one leg of the tourism triangle, what’s going to happen?”
All the residents questioned why, instead of unplugging Corsons Inlet, the Army Corps is pumping sand from a borrow site in the ocean for its current replenishment project from the south end of Ocean City to the south end of Sea Isle City. But the Army Corps has said at public meetings that there is not enough sand in Corsons Inlet for the current project, and that it will take material from there when it performs maintenance work in the next five years.
“We’re sitting here wondering what’s going to happen at Corsons Inlet when almost 1 million yards of new sand hits there,” said Farrell, referencing the inevitable shift of material from current beach-fill projects.
He said research center monitoring shows 3.5 million cubic yards of sand exists in the inlet, which would increase to as many as 5 million to 6 million if a prohibition against dredging near a sunken barge were lifted. That’s more than enough for the current projects, which require 4 million cubic yards, he said.
“Someone’s got to be responsible for it,” Delany said.
But no one is, so boaters using Corsons Inlet must continue to beware.