Southern Ocean City residents want share of beach-replenishment happening on northern end
OCEAN CITY — Residents of Ocean City’s southern end are not looking forward to another summer of sitting on the dunes.
That’s what many say they had to do last year during high tides, because their piece of the beach has steadily eroded in the 13 years since they received a beach-replenishment project.
However, while the northern end of the island is currently receiving 1.8 million cubic yards of sand, as it does every three years, people living on the other end are being told there is no money to restore their shoreline.
Many people in the south are short on patience with their elected leaders.
“They’ve got their heads stuck in the mud," said Thad Kirk, who lives on West Avenue between 56th and 57th streets. "I was going to say stuck in the sand, but there’s no sand to be had.”
City officials say they are working on the issue every day, but spokesmen for both the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection said there is no funding available to split the cost with the municipal government on such a project.
At the least, the city will be trucking in sand from off the island and moving sand from one part of the beach to the other, mainly to help rebuild the dunes that Sandy easily toppled.
Ocean City was the only oceanfront community in Cape May County to experience complete dune failures during the storm in certain locations, and streets on both ends were filled with sand. The city used heavy machinery to push the sand back to the beaches, but much of it also washed out to sea.
The center of the island has the largest beaches, and the dunes there withstood Sandy better than in the north and south.
Officials are not sure yet how much sand will be trucked and harvested, but it will not be nearly enough to satisfy residents south of 50th Street.
“Trucking sand, in the scheme of things, is like putting a Band-Aid on a severed limb,” said Jeffrey Monihan, who lives on Central Avenue between 56th and 57th streets.
The project in the northern end was scheduled long before Sandy hit, but the federal government funded pumping more sand to replace what was lost during the hurricane. The contract, which includes a replenishment in Brigantine, cost about $15.8 million, with $10.3 million split between the Army Corps, state and city, and $5.5 milion entirely funded by the federal government.
Residents have questioned why the city cannot just move that dredge to the southern end once it is finished, but DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said that is not possible.
The hydraulic dredge in the northern end is pumping a mix of sand and water directly from the ocean floor through a pipe to the beach. It is doing so from a designated borrow site, because to pump from other places would interfere with the normal ebb and flow of sand in the tides.
“That could actually end up depriving the beach of sand,” he said.
In the southern end, he said a dredge would need to travel farther out to sea and load sand onto a boat that would then travel back to shore to unload the sand. This would require a so-called hopper dredge.
“So, there are two completely different sets of equipment,” Hajna said.
Hajna said the department has received a request from Mayor Jay Gillian to work with the city and replenish the southern end, which Hajna said the department is reviewing. He added, however, that funding in the state’s Shore Protection Program is already entirely claimed for this fiscal year.
Army Corps spokesman Richard Pearsall also said there is no money available from his federal agency.
“It’s an authorized project, but there is no funding in place,” Pearsall said. “That’s the key ingredient, and the normal funding process would take quite a while.”
It is currently unclear whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse the city if it were to undertake the project alone. The work would likely cost several million dollars, but no formal estimate has been made by the city.
There has been a plan in the Army Corps project queue for years that put Ocean City’s south end, along with Strathmere and Sea Isle City, on a long-term schedule for constant replenishment, but it has so far gone unfunded.
City Business Administrator Michael Dattilo said Ocean City is still considering the possibility of hiring its own dredge company to do the work, but added that time is running out to get it done before the start of summer.
“We’re getting very close to making it too late, but not impossible, for the summer season,” he said.
Residents such as Kirk think the city government has dragged its feet on the project for years, having known about the diminished beaches before last summer. He said the city should start the replenishment with the expectation of federal reimbursement, before it’s too late.
Monihan also said he simply does not believe the city is doing all it can to get to the project done.
“In my experience, when the city government wants something, they get it,” he said.
Nearby South End resident Tony Pinnie, who lives on West Avenue between 55th and 56th, said they do not begrudge the north end getting sand, but just want equitable treatment.
On a recent afternoon, he stood on the beach at 56h Street. The high tide line, evidenced by the remains of sea grass, sea shells and horseshoe crab parts, is only about 6 feet from the foot of the berm built by sand pushed off the streets.
Pinnie said the beaches here were far too small last summer. At that point, he said they were already ending beach volleyball games prematurely because the water would cover their court.
“When I say people were sitting up on the dunes, they were literally on top of the dunes,” he said.
Residents in that area were already distributing a petition at that time to get a replenishment project done. After Sandy, there are even more people involved in the effort.
“These people aren’t going away,” he said.
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