Several beaches in Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties will benefit this year from a series of beach replenishment projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
One recently completed project transformed Brigantine’s north beach, where the storm had left waves breaking against the city’s sea wall at high tide. Elsewhere, crews are dredging 1.8 million cubic yards of sand for an Ocean City project, and projects on Absecon Island, Cape May and Long Beach Island are forthcoming.
Construction on several projects yet to begin, including the replacement of 1.1 million cubic yards of sand on Atlantic City’s and Ventnor’s beaches, is expected to go on through at least part of the summer tourist season.
“Some folks will say you shouldn’t be doing construction during the summer,” said U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd. “If they knew what it took to get work moving on this timetable, I think they’d appreciate it.”
Historically, LoBiondo said, it’s taken the Corps a year or more to begin replenishment after destructive storms. A concerted effort by local and state officials resulted in much of the usual red tape being cleared, he said.
It also involved a heated confrontation in Congress over $51 billion in emergency disaster relief, a battle that resulted in LoBiondo and other officials calling out colleagues who received funding for previous disasters. Funding was approved late last month, clearing the way for the Corps to begin replenishment efforts.
“This has been light speed,” LoBiondo said, noting that Congress can begin releasing money when it receives the Corps’ first engineering report Friday. The hope, he said, is to complete replenishment before the start of the new hurricane season June 1.
Replenishment has always been critical for shore towns, but the projects took on greater importance after Sandy. Even resorts that suffered comparatively little damage to homes or infrastructure saw their beaches erode, along with hope for a lucrative summer.
“Beaches make us,” said Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. “If we don’t have that, we don’t have much.”
As nearby Brigantine and Ocean City benefited from projects approved before the storm, Atlantic City officials lobbied for their own replenishment.
Atlantic City draws about 29 million visitors annually, according to statistics provided by the South Jersey Transportation Authority and the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. The city sustained significant erosion near Absecon Inlet and between Jackson Avenue and the old Garden Pier, city Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said. Along Maine Avenue, in particular, crashing waves during Sandy undermined a section of the Boardwalk that had been slated for removal.
“It saved us from getting demolition done — we were able to pick the wood off the streets,” he said.
While replenishment comes with obvious tourism benefits, Foley said it also protects valuable property. According to the city Tax Assessor’s Office, the current ratable base is valued at about $14.4 billion.
Foley said a healthy beach can make the difference between an inconvenient storm and a disastrous one.
“During Hurricane Earl (in 2010), we didn’t have a wide beach, and we had $2 million in damage to the Boardwalk from Taj Mahal to where Revel is now,” he said.
The most dramatic transformation has been to Brigantine, where about 50 yards of golden sand await summer visitors. That joint project involving Brigantine and Ocean City cost $18.8 million split among the federal government, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the two municipalities. Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther said LoBiondo’s efforts helped secure more funding — and more sand — for his city’s project.
“There had been no beach at all,” Guenther said. “We would, first of all, be vulnerable to storms, but also the use of the beach in summer would be limited.”
Guenther said Brigantine was fortunate that its project had already been approved, allowing it to get a jump on storm recovery.
“In one regard, it was timely to do it after the storm passed,” he said.
Not every shore town can expect the same.
Corps spokesman Steve Rochette said decisions are based primarily on the value of the property being protected, not the potential windfall to local tourism. It’s also easier for beach communities already approved for periodic replenishment to obtain emergency sand. Other projects may have been authorized by Congress, but funding has not yet been secured. And work can also be limited for logistical reasons, he said.
“There’s not too many companies that typically do this sort of work,” he said.
Longport and Margate, for instance, aren’t included in the initial Absecon Island project because they weren’t part of the Corps’ replenishment schedule, LoBiondo said.
Rochette said the projects in Ocean City and Stone Harbor are expected to be completed by late May. The Absecon Island, Cape May and Long Beach Island projects are all going to bid soon, with a tentative goal to begin construction within the next 60 to 75 days.
“The goal is to get as much work done as quickly as we can,” he said.
Business officials say replenishment is a boon to the local economy.
Joseph Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, said a wide beach not only draws sunbathers but provides an important venue for events such as the Atlantic City Airshow.
“We’ve chosen to make our beach the venue for that event, starting in Brigantine and down into Margate and even Ocean City,” he said. “Every small business along the way is enhanced by the crowds that come to the show.”
Foley said the beach at Florida Avenue currently isn’t wide enough to serve its customary role as the “landing zone” for paratroopers who participate in the event.
According to a November study completed by Atlantic Cape Community College’s Center for Regional and Business Research, the airshow attracted an estimated 289,095 more visitors than the average August Friday. Cumulatively, they spent nearly $42.5 million for food, lodging, transportation and other costs.
Joseph Musumeci, a real estate agent with Atlantic Coast Realtors and vice president of Brigantine’s chamber of commerce, said replenishment could dispel the public perception of that town’s destruction.
“Anytime you saw the hurricane, you saw Brigantine and the president meeting with the mayor,” he said. ”People think we got destroyed.”
Gillian said it’s difficult to calculate the full impact of replenishment, but its benefits are clear.
“I know up in Congress and out in the West, they think it’s all sun and fun, but it’s really a stimulus package for the business community,” she said.
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