NORTH WILDWOOD — Residents worried their ocean views would be impacted or that it could be harder to get to the water’s edge expressed concerns Friday about a proposed $22 million project to create a 25,000 –foot-long dune on Five-Mile Beach.

Several of those who spoke at the public hearing on the project proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection seemed skeptical about creating the 16-foot-high dune from Second Avenue in North Wildwood to Raleigh Avenue in Lower Township.

“I’m very concerned about the effect of a 16-foot dune on the tourism industry. I can’t see them going over a 16-foot gravel path to get to the beach,” said Robert Patterson of Wildwood Crest.

Brian Bogle, the project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said other shore towns have dunes and they are not an impediment to tourism. Bogle said if the high waters that flooded northern New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy had hit Five-Mile Beach it would have caused as much as $170 million in damages. Sandy caused minimal damages south of Sea Isle City.

“Storm damage reduction and tourism are able to co-exist,” Bogle said.

Bud Hughes, of North Wildwood, said people think the new dunes would be 16 feet above natural dunes on the strand. Dunes are sporadic along the beaches, with flatter sections ranging from 4.5 to 6.5 feet above sea level, but Chris Constantino, the project manager for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said some existing dunes are already at slightly more than 14 feet above sea level. Less than two feet would be added “above what is there,” Constantino said.

Several of the 13 people who commented argued that flooding from the back bays is more of a threat than from the ocean.

“Everybody knows flooding in the Wildwoods comes from the back bays and not surges from the ocean,” said Richard Basara, of Wildwood.

Pete Blum, Planning Division Chief for the Army Corps’ Philadelphia District, said a separate study is under way to address back-bay flooding in New Jersey.

Jim Yost, who represented Seapointe Village in Diamond Beach, was concerned endangered piping plovers could nest in the dunes and lead to restrictions. Bogle said there is too much human activity for plovers to nest.

The project was first envisioned in 1987 as a result of Hurricane Gloria, which struck the shore in 1985. It had been stagnant for years but has been fast-tracked by Hurricane Sandy, and funds were appropriated for it in 2013.

“Ever since Sandy hit it really did place this on a much faster track. This study is on steroids right now. The timing is right,” Blum said.

The project is voluntary and up to municipal officials in the four towns, none of whom spoke at the meeting.

“We’re not going to push this down anybody’s throat,” Bogle said.

North Wildwood has expressed support for the plan. But the mayors in Wildwood and Wildwood Crest have said they oppose it, citing poetntial economic impact and concerns about the dune height.

The project officials at Friday’s hearing explained a number of added benefits, including reducing areas of ponding water on the beach — a situation that Wildwood resident Jim Toland dubbed “Lake Wildwood” — and removing sand from clogged stormwater outfall pipes in Wildwood, which has some beaches more than 1,000 feet wide. Blum said accepting the project opens the towns up to additional emergency beach funding after storms.

“We have to come back and protect the investment,” Blum said.

The outfall pipe problem was given as a reason not to dredge sand from the navigationally-challenged Hereford Inlet. That would have added more sand to places that already have too much of it. Bogle said between 1955 and 2003 about 10 million cubic yards of sand washed from Stone Harbor and North Wildwood onto beaches to the south. The project as proposed would mine material from sand-rich areas in Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and Lower Township’s Diamond Beach section using a movable crane and a submersible pump.

Toland said he is worried about the beach shrinking. Wildwood is known for its large beaches.

“We need every grain of sand we have. This isn’t just a great, big desert. Wildwood uses that,” Toland said.

Constantino said Wildwood would have a range of 300 to 1,100 feet from the ocean to the toe of the dune.

The Army Corps and DEP officials said they are willing to work with local officials on such issues as where to place the dune, tying in where possible with existing dunes, and details on access points, including how they are sloped. The preliminary plan is to locate the dune about 20 to 30 feet in front of boardwalk areas.

Officials also assured residents that after the sand is moved, the beach would be sloped properly so there is no danger to bathers.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.