OCEAN CITY — The island’s south end will receive truckloads of sand this spring, but not pipe-loads like many residents there hoped.
More than 100 people attended the City Council meeting Thursday night, most of them pleading for a beach-replenishment project from 40th Street to Corson’s Inlet, an area they said was in desperate need of sand before Hurricane Sandy and is even more diminished now.
They questioned why the north end of the island is receiving 1.8 million cubic yards of sand but they are being told there is no way to pump sand onto their part of the beach. They wondered whether there would be enough room for people there this summer.
“People have to make plans, and this question is being asked by hundreds and thousands of south end renters and vacationers,” said resident Kris Stanwood. “We need to have something to tell them.”
What they were told Thursday by officials from the Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Environmental Protection was that there is no funding in place to replenish that area of beach, and even if it suddenly appeared today, it could take more than a year to get all the studies, approvals and permits needed to make it happen.
Mayor Jay Gillian, sensing that many people were not happy with those answers, said the city was doing everything legally allowed to bring sand to that part of the island as soon as possible.
“I’m doing everything I can, as fast as I can,” he said.
Ocean City was the only barrier island in Cape May County to suffer widespread, complete dune failures during Hurricane Sandy, with the Oct. 29 storm surge toppling the sand barriers and pushing them through city streets.
The north end and south end were hit equally hard, but the north already had a replenishment project scheduled prior to the storm. Since that plan was already in place, the federal government agreed to fully fund an additional 800,000 cubic yards of sand that would replace what was lost during Sandy.
The south end, which has not had a full replenishment since 2000, is part of a different, long-delayed $20 million federal project that is still awaiting funding.
City Business Administrator Mike Dattilo said Thursday that the city expects to request bids on a project to truck sand to that area, pushing it from parts of the beach that can spare it and bringing in more from elsewhere. City crews also pushed sand off the streets back onto the beaches in the days and weeks after the storm hit.
The state and federal officials laid out a detailed explanation why it would not be possible or practical to do more than that at this point.
Clearly, the major sticking point is funding. The project to restore the south end, from 34th to 59th streets, would be done in combination with Ludlam Island to the south and require 1.85 million cubic yards of sand.
Rather than pumping that sand from the ocean floor directly to the beach, as is being done in the north end, the sand would have to be carried by boat from a different area miles offshore, making the project even more expensive and time consuming, they said.
Congress approved the south end project in 2007, but the federal funding and survey work needed has delayed its implementation. Still more surveys are needed now after Sandy, as well as permits that could take as long as 18 months to acquire.
Once approved, the south end’s beaches could be restored every three years, as the north’s end have been since the early 1990s. Prior to the north end’s ongoing replenishment plan, waves routinely swept underneath the city’s Boardwalk at high tides.
Any state funding that could get a smaller project done sooner would not be available until the new fiscal year begins in July. The city has already made a request to engage in a partnership with the state to split the cost of replenishment.
For the city to hire its own dredge company to pump its own sand onto the south end beaches, without any help from the state or federal governments, it would still need permits and engineering plans. It would also cost the city millions to tens of millions of dollars more to do it alone.
William Dixon, a supervisor for the DEP’s Bureau of Coastal Engineering, said just mobilizing a dredge could cost $3 million before any sand is pumped.
Dwight Pakan, a project manager for the Army Corps, added that all levels of government are committed to replenishment of the south end. Millions have already been spent to study that area, and their analysis found that every dollar spent on the project would have twice as large an economic benefit.
Still, it remains unclear when a full replenishment project could be done there. At the least, it will not be before either the end of this year or beginning of next year.
After their presentation and comments from the City Council members, most of the residents who came to raise support for the issue immediately left. They will now have to wait and see whether the promised truckloads of sand will be enough to protect their properties and provide space to enjoy the ocean.
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