Whether Margate will get dunes on its beaches hinges on its residents’ vote, but neighboring Ventnor will be affected by the decision.
Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell said he has been told by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that if Margate agrees to its dune project, dunes will be added to Ventnor’s southern end beaches, where there currently are none.
On Aug. 15, Margate commissioners voted to put a nonbinding referendum on the November ballot for its residents to express their opinion on moving ahead with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed project, the Absecon Island Coastal Storm Risk Reduction Project.
Margate is the only town on Absecon Island that requires a public vote on all beach preservation projects under an ordinance enacted during the city's first debate over dunes in 2002 and 2003.
If most voters say no, the project is dead. If they vote yes, the commissioners will have to schedule a binding referendum, also required under the ordinance.
Bagnell said the dunes in Ventnor end at Richards Avenue, about a dozen blocks from the Margate border, to protect that town from getting unwanted sand.
He said the lack of dunes on the stretch of beach, from Richards to Fredricksburg Avenue, has caused massive beach erosion, and it leaves a portion of Ventnor’s Boardwalk unprotected from a potential storm.
“If our Boardwalk is destroyed by a storm, our taxpayers will be burdened,” Bagnell said.
But if Margate signs on to the Army Corps and DEP’s project, Ventnor’s dunes will be extended to Fredricksburg Avenue.
“That way the entire length of the Boardwalk will be protected,” he said. “We’re depending upon Margate to approve the project.”
Steve Rochette, public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, confirmed that Ventnor’s fate is in Margate’s voters’ hands.
“We would need Margate’s participation to extend the dunes throughout the rest of Ventnor,” Rochette said.
As Rochette explained, the reason the dunes in Ventnor stop at Richards Avenue, as opposed to ending at the cities’ border, is because dunes have to taper off.
“It can’t just stop abruptly like a building construction,” he said.
Margate is the only town on Absecon Island without a dune program currently in place, and proposals to add them have been met with opposition from many residents, including a group formed for that purpose, Margate’s Citizens for Beach Preservation.
During an Aug. 15 special public meeting with the DEP and Army Corps to discuss the project, several residents spoke out against the dunes, saying they would change the character and ambiance of Margate and that they haven’t been given enough information on the project to prove dunes would protect their town from a potential storm.
“We want answers to the questions that haven’t been answered,” said group leader Vaughan Reale, a former mayor of Margate.
Margate resident Harriet Harris said she’s torn on the issue.
“I want my home to be protected, but it’s undoubtedly going to cause an unattractive view for people who live near the ocean,” Harris said.
Atlantic City and Ventnor have had dunes on their beaches for more than a decade, and, after years of resistance, Longport agreed in April to join the state’s Shore Protection Program and seek federal funding for storm-protection projects.
Longport Mayor Nick Russo said he doesn’t believe his town, which also borders Margate, will be affected by Margate’s decision on dunes, but he does advise Margate to approve the project.
“I don’t think (rejecting it) would be the prudent thing to do,” Russo said. “And there’s a clear mandate coming from Trenton. ... The Governor’s Office would like to see dunes along the entire New Jersey coast.”
Russo said he can’t say why Longport formerly rejected dunes, because he wasn’t part of the administration at that time. However, he said, he stayed in Longport during Hurricane Sandy and saw firsthand the dunes’ effectiveness.
“I have the Army Corps telling me that a dune project will help me. I have the DEP telling me that a dune project will help me. And I have my own observation during Hurricane Sandy. For me, it became a no-brainer.”
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