Construction is underway on a $655,000 retrofit of a 4-year-old dune system in West Atlantic City that was designed to reduce flooding in a low-lying neighborhood on Lakes Bay.
Many of the entities involved with the project say the reinforcement will reduce erosion and maintenance costs for the dune, which was an alternate solution to what was initially proposed as a bulkhead along Bay Drive.
In August, Egg Harbor Township approved the project to install sections of gabions along a dune abutting a mile-stretch of Bay Drive. The gabions, which are wire baskets filled with large rocks, are supposed to stabilize and reinforce the sand dune, which is constantly eroded by the wind and waves.
The project to the build the dune, which included installing additional storm-sewer pipes to improve drainage, cost $2.2 million, with $1.4 million paid for through state grants. The gabion installation will cost about $655,000, with the bulk of that paid for through federal and state grants, assistant township engineer Bob Watkins said. The cost is about $100,000 more than what the township originally budgeted, township documents show.
The dune system has been controversial from the time it was approved in 2007 because the township, some residents and certain branches of the state Department of Environmental Protection expected a bulkhead would be constructed instead.
However, the Fish and Wildlife Division of DEP as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected the bulkhead for several reasons, including that the structure could increase the turbidity of the water and wave energy refracting off the walls could damage existing shellfish beds, township administrator Peter Miller said. As an alternative to the proposed bulkhead, Miller said, one branch of the DEP said it would approve an artificial-dune system that is typically seen only on the ocean side of a barrier island.
Since its installation, the township has had to make multiple repairs to the dune after large storms and flooding eroded sections of it, Miller said.
A 2010 Stevens Institute of Technology review of the proposed gabion design said natural sand dunes exist only where there is a wide beach to continuously replenish it and without that, the dune will continue to erode unless maintained frequently.
“Given the present condition of the beach and dune system in West Atlantic City, the dune will continue to erode unless either a wide beach is created seaward of the dune or some form of structural stabilization is provided to encase the sand in the dune,” the report said.
Concerns over the project ultimately reached other state-level offices, with the Attorney General’s Office subpoenaing all documents related to the project in 2009 and the Inspector General’s Office launching an investigation, though officials in those offices would not confirm at the time whether an investigation was ongoing.
The Inspector General’s Office was folded into the state Comptroller’s Office in June and spokesman Peter McAleer said there had been an investigation into the project, but that it appeared to be closed. He did not know the results and said officials at the agency have yet to read the report..
Almost as soon as the dune system was installed in 2007, there were problems with erosion, either from wind or water. Shortly after construction was completed, a strong storm eroded a significant portion of the dune. The 8-foot-high dune also had to be raised by 1.2 feet to 9.2 feet to satisfy federal flood protection requirements, but because the permit was for an 8-foot-high dune, the state DEP issued a violation notice.
Watkins said engineers knew in 2008 that the dune would need some type of reinforcement, but the permits did not allow any type of hard surface or reinforcement.
Additionally, miscommunication within the DEP and the township resulted with the agency refusing to pay for the dune because the grant had been approved for a bulkhead, spokesman Larry Ragonese said. “We honestly didn’t think the dunes would hold up to the 100 year flood-control requirements,” he said. Ultimately, DEP paid $1.37 million in grant money to the township, but only for the storm-sewer improvements.
The township applied for another grant under a different section of the agency and received about $200,000 to go toward the retrofit, Ragonese said. Engineers decided on gabions because the spaces between the rocks would absorb the wave energy coming onto the shore, reduce the amount of erosion and the wave energy would not affect the shellfish beds, Watkins said.
Construction on the retrofit has been delayed somewhat by the weather, but Watkins said the hope is that work will be complete by the end of April.
Miller said that despite the dune’s frequent erosion and the maintenance cost for the repairs, the first project “probably has eliminated about 85 (percent) to 95 percent of tidal flooding.” The flooding that does occur, he said, often comes from slight downhill grade on the Black Horse Pike, where tides flood sections of wetlands about a half-mile east of the Bay Drive neighborhood, Miller said.
As for the retrofit, “we still don’t think that’s the perfect solution,” Miller said. “But if somebody is willing to give you money and take the burden off the Egg Harbor Township taxpayers to address it, we’re going to take the money and do something to address it.”
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