SURF CITY — Beach entrances have been cordoned off with yellow police tape. Beyond the police tape are steep cliffs of sand.
Gone are the sloping ramps that led to and from the beach last summer. Gone, too, is the sand, nearly 800,000 cubic yards of it swept away by the ocean.
A harsh winter has stripped this Long Beach Island community of millions of federal dollars worth of sand put there in 2006 and 2007. Waves lap against the dunes that protect oceanfront homes.
All this raises questions among locals as to whether the beaches here will be ready when tourists start arriving for Memorial Day weekend and will how much will it hurt rentals and beach attendance. From Long Beach Island to Cape May County, shore towns are rushing to repair beaches in time for the tourist season. While erosion has sapped many beaches, this town on Long Beach Island is dealing with a severe loss of beach.
“I went down to the beach a few weeks ago, and there was no beach. I don’t know what happened,” Tony Esposito, owner of Surf City Pizza at 11th Street and Long Beach Boulevard, said Friday.
Esposito said business owners across Long Beach Island are going to have a problem with the conditions of the beaches. Surf City Pizza is open year-round, and Esposito said people have been coming into the restaurant amazed at the poor conditions and lack of sand.
“I had a lady who came in and said she wasn’t renting this house in Surf City because she went to look at it, and there was no beach,” he said. “On Long Beach Island we have no boardwalk, we have no casino, and all we have are the beaches. If the beach is gone, what do we do?”
Surf City Mayor Leonard Connors, an elected official here for 46 years, agreed that the beaches are bad, but said they will be in good shape soon enough. The city plans to bring in dump trucks of sand for the beaches starting May 13, Connors said. Bulldozers will spread the sand and create passable beaches and ramps.
“Every street end will have a ramp going down to the beach. Sure, the erosion is bad, and it’s ongoing, and there’s no question about it. It’s happening right now,” Connors said.
But he, too, expects to see some fallout from the lack of sand.
“I think we’re going to see a greatly diminished rental and beach attendance because of the erosion,” Connors said.
‘A recreational asset’
Rick Reynolds, director of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, said the beaches are a recreational asset and need maintenance. He said he believes the state has an obligation to keep funding beach projects on the island.
“We certainly got devastated this winter with an inordinate number of storms, but without the money to rebuild them we have to wait for Mother Nature to build them back up,” Reynolds said.
“The attraction to the beach is enormous, and I think the state needs to understand that they do have an exceptional recreational asset, and if that isn’t maintained, that people will go elsewhere. I think it’s shortsighted not to maintain the beaches.”
The borough lost the most amount of sand in the north end of town, but the south end of Surf City seems to be holding its own, Connors said.
“Up until 18th Street, we’re in pretty good shape. Erosion scours out some areas and leaves others alone. In the southern portion, we’ve lost some beach, but we haven’t lost it to the extent that we’ve lost it in the northern portion,” he said.
Debbi Marscher owns a home at 16th Street and North Ocean Terrace and said she has fully rented her home for the summer season, despite the beach conditions. But Marscher said she believes most of the homes were rented without renters having knowledge of the beach erosion.
“We don’t come down in the wintertime, so we didn’t know it was this bad until we just got here. It breaks my heart,” Marscher said Friday.
Connors blamed a winter of tough weather, that the beachfill project was completed in Surf City first and not in other towns, and that its shore sticks out, just begging for scouring and erosion.
“If they would have done the project contiguously, the amount of erosion would not have been severe,” he said.
But U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection could not obtain the necessary amount of land easements to complete the additional legs of the multi-million-dollar project in neighboring municipalities.
“When you look at the photo taken at the conclusion of the project against the photo now, there’s severe erosion, no question about it, on the one hand. On the other hand, the promise was made that they were going to do the whole island, and apparently they’re not doing that now,” Connors said.
He said at this point it does not appear that Surf City beaches will be eligible for federal funding to repair the beaches.
Stephen Rochette, spokesman for the corps, said following the northeast storms in the fall and winter the corps surveyed and completed reports regarding erosion on beaches where federal beachfill projects took place. The reports evaluate if a project is eligible for emergency restoration funding. The reports are still being approved and are not ready for release, according to Rochette. Once the reports are approved, the projects will need supplemental funding from Congress, he said.
“It’s also important to note the funding is not meant to take the place of a renourishment, which is scheduled every few years, but rather it is meant to restore a project to the pre-storm conditions,” Rochette said.
Borough officials had a meeting Tuesday with the corps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and they were told the borough’s erosion problems are “mostly excess,” meaning the ramps to the beach have been washed out.
But Connors also added that had the borough paid for its portion of the project three years ago, he would feel a lot different about the sand that has disappeared from the beaches.
“If we would have paid the $650,000, I would be running around screaming and wringing my hands. We got a hell of a lot of free sand and pretty good beach. So any sand up there (Surf City) residents got it for nothing, we did a good job,” Connors said.
During the $6 million beach replenishment project in 2006-2007, Surf City beaches received enough sand to fill 46,300 large dump trucks.
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