LOWER TOWNSHIP — Just about every town on the New Jersey shore has one, but nobody has constructed a large promenade on the Delaware Bay coast yet.
Mayor Mike Beck hopes to be the first.
Beck set up a committee last year to look into constructing a fishing pier out into the bay. Now he has shifted the focus to a 15-foot-wide, 800-foot-long bayside promenade atop the rock jetty north of the Cape May Canal entrance.
Beck said the ferocity of Hurricane Sandy raised questions about how well a fishing pier would fare in a storm. The rock jetty, owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, already has stood the test of time. At least it has held fast since it was constructed during World War II.
“We were concerned that what we built would stay there. The two-fold issue with Sandy was the ferocity of the storm and drawing funding. Towns were destroyed, and I didn’t think we’d get the funding necessary to construct a full fishing pier,” Beck said.
The township still does not have the estimated $1.1 million necessary to construct the promenade, which would be wheelchair accessible and linked to parking and bathrooms at the nearby David C. Douglass Memorial Park and the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal. The township is among the first applicants for Cape May County open space money suddenly available for such projects, and Beck said the township would seek other grants as well.
The county has been collecting an open space tax since 1989, but up until this year it was earmarked for land acquisition. The county freeholders recently took advantage of a 1997 state law to expand the fund to develop parks and recreational opportunities. Open space usually was purchased on the mainland, but by expanding the fund, the county expects more projects on the barrier islands and the waterfront.
Beck’s next job is to convince a county Open Space Review Board to support the application and then sell it to the freeholders, who make the final decision. The new use of the fund was established without setting any ceiling on how much could be awarded. The tax generates about $5 million per year. There was a ranking system set up with the one goal being to develop diverse recreational opportunities.
Beck plans to push the fact that seniors and the disabled, including war veterans, have limited recreational opportunities. They often can’t negotiate rock jetties to fish or watch Delaware Bay sunsets, July 4 firework displays and other events on the bay. But they would have no problem on a concrete roadway.
Beck hopes to include benches, railings and simple structures with roofs on them. It would be open to wheelchairs and motorized scooters.
“We need something to create shade so the senior population can read a book or watch boats go out the canal. You’re taking your life in your hands going out on the rocks now,” Beck said.
The Delaware River & Bay Authority, which runs the ferry service, appears to be on board. DRBA spokesman Jim Salmon said there have been discussions with township officials including Beck.
“The authority supports enhancements that will improve safe public access to the jetty, and based on what we know today we will cooperate with Lower Township any way we can,” Salmon said.
Beck said the project would benefit the DRBA facility. He also plans to sell it as an economic development project that will boost the tourist industry.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built the canal during World War II so marine traffic could avoid German U-boats lurking at the mouth of the bay, owns the jetty. Beck said there have been discussions with the Army Corps already.
Township Engineer George Curvan is working on a preliminary set of drawings for the Army Corps and said he visited concrete seawalls in North Wildwood and Barnegat Light. While most shore towns have wooden boardwalks, some use concrete or asphalt. Cape May and Sea Isle City constructed concrete promenades after the 1962 storm.
“It would be similar to what’s in North Wildwood. They’ve done quite a few of them throughout the state and on the East Coast. We’re still working on the engineering,” Curvan said.
Hard structures put in the ocean often lead to beach erosion problems, but Curvan does not expect such impact in the bay environment. The jetty has been in the bay about 70 years and there is no significant erosion on either side.
“I don’t anticipate any adverse environmental impacts,” Curvan said.
Township Manager Mike Voll said the promenade could link with restaurants and bars at the ferry terminal. He also envisions a wooden boardwalk to the township-owned Douglass Park.
The township would maintain trash collection, portable restrooms, parking and do all maintenance. The county fund cannot be used for maintenance, equipment or any normal operational expenses.
Applications for use of the fund for parks and recreation were due Monday. Applications for a second new use of the fund, historic preservation projects, are due Dec. 16. The Open Space Review Board has not yet reviewed any of the applications.
Voll said there have been a lot of injuries on the rock jetty over the years and the concrete, done with a rough surface so it is not slippery when wet, would be safer. He said the township would have to structure a legal agreement with the Army Corps.
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