Hurricane Irene robbed relatively little sand from South Jersey's shores this past weekend, sparing the region dramatic beach erosion that many feared just a week before visitors return for Labor Day weekend.
Parts of Atlantic City, Long Beach Township and Cape May had somewhat smaller beaches in the storm's wake, but the effects were nowhere near what locals said they have witnessed during lower-profile storms in the past.
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"For the massive size of this storm, I'm amazed," said Lynne Rose, of Brigantine. "I'm really thankful."
Irene's potential power drew preemptive comparisons to the 1962 March northeaster that swept whole city blocks out to sea. Rose was a senior in high school when that storm hit, and she said there was no "It looks exactly the same," she said as she sat in her beach chair by the Brigantine Inlet and watched her granddaughter splash in the surf.
The state Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were busy assessing erosion Monday.
"Our initial reports look good. In some cases there is sand loss, but the integrity of the beaches is good. Sand replenishment and dune construction did exactly what they were designed to do. They bore the brunt of the storm," DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said.
Stephen Rochette, of the Army Corps, said teams were out Monday in New Jersey and Delaware assessing beach erosion at all towns where the agency has beach projects.
"Early reports are that there was some minor erosion," Rochette said.
In some cases, one town's loss was another's gain. Cape May was one of the harder-hit areas, with Cove Beach losing sand, but much of it moved west to Cape May Point State Park in Lower Township and to Cape May Point.
"Some of the Cove probably drifted down our way, and there may be some that hasn't reached us yet," Cape May Point Mayor Carl Schupp said. The borough did lose some sand at Saint Peter's and Brainard Avenue beaches but gained some on Alexander Avenue and at other beaches with artificial concrete reefs protecting them.
Cape May lost sand at the Cove and also saw the ocean crest over The Promenade on the east end of the city around Wilmington Avenue. Both areas were already suffering erosion.
Mayor Ed Mahaney said the Wilmington Avenue area will be addressed by an upcoming Army Corps beach-replenishment project, set to pump in 400,000 cubic yards of sand while moving around another 40,000 cubic yards already on the beaches to lower the profile and make them safer for swimmers. That project is expected to start in November. In Atlantic City, Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said he noticed some erosion in the northern edge of the city, the same area that received a $7.8 million beachreplenishment project.
He said a formal assessment of what was lost will not be ready untilWednesday, but he, too, said effects were minimal compared with initially dire predictions.
"We fared very well," he said. "I was very surprised."
Atlantic City lifeguard James Anderson, of Ventnor, said the same thing. From the Texas Avenue stand, he pointed to a few beach shacks that were battered by the pounding waves, and a part of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino sign that had chipped off.
"Other than that, it was pretty chill," he said. "I've seen way worse."
On Long Beach Island, Surf City finished a $4.7 million replenishment project in June, and Mayor Len Connors said the larger beaches mostly held firmagainst Irene.
Likewise, Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini said the areas of his municipality largely weathered the storm with little impact, saying they were lucky that the hurricane's strength subsided before it hit the area.
No major erosion was reported in Harvey Cedars, which underwent a $25 million beach-replenishment project last year.
Brant Beach, an area notorious for losing sand to surging waves, was further worn down, while the entrance to Holgate was entirely lost, and might not be rebuilt until the end of the week, officials said.
"The township is in the process of fixing the entrance so we can get out on the refuge," Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge Manager Virginia Rettig said. "We've just barely gotten on to the north end of the refuge to poke around. But as far as refuge habitat, we have no idea what's happening."
Brant Beach is also set for a several-million-dollar replenishment project this fall, Mancini said.
"Besides that, we had less damage than we would have seen in past nor'easters," he added.
Cape May County's bayshore communities also lost some sand, as the tailwinds from Hurricane Irene came fromthe northwest. Many said the tail winds were stronger than the headwinds.
"We have minimal to moderate erosion on our bay communities. There is sand on the roads we will be getting back on the beach," Middle Township Mayor Susan DeLanzo said.
Coastal erosion in some places just meant that sand ended up in offshore sandbars that could return to the beaches during milder weather.
In Avalon, the stormcaused the beach to get wider and flatter, but the borough's coastal geologist, Stewart Farrell, said the sand lies just offshore. Farrell said in July the water was 16 feet deep 500 feet offshore but now is 11 feet deep.
Farrell said the wider and flatter beach is a typical poststorm profile. "The berm has been erased but the sand is right offshore. Hopefully it comes back in a couple weeks," Farrell said.
In other places, the storm actually pushed sand farther up the beach, so that people visiting the strands Monday had to trudge over 5-foot piles of sand to reach the water.
Joyce Bou, of Dennis Township, who has checked beach tags daily on 40th Street in Sea Isle City for the past decade, said her walkway to the beach was covered in sand pushed toward the promenade by the waves.
By 10 a.m., though, city crews had cleared the walkway and leveled out the beach.
"We lucked out, let's put it that way," she said.
Officials all over said recent construction and replenishment projects prevented damage that could have been worse.
Cape May's Mahaney credited the dune constructed last winter at the Cove beach for preventing property damage.
"That was a very worthwhile project. It did save the city from having water intrusion into the western end of town. It did protect us," Mahaney said.
Upper Township Mayor Richard Palombo said Strathmere beaches lost height and length, with piling showing that "we haven't seen in years." But he said a beachreplenishment project done two years ago prevented property damage.
"The good news is it did its job. It did protect Strathmere," Palombo said.
Strathmere is set to get more sand this winter from a $4 million project, with 75 percent of the funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The township will pay $1 million of the costs.
"We should be back in good shape relatively quickly," Palombo said.
Staff Writer Donna Weaver contributed to this report.
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