South Jersey’s coastline likely will see hundreds of millions of dollars invested in building up dunes and beaches in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The sand barriers worked, but were eroded by the storm and need to be replenished. Their effectiveness at keeping oceanfront properties intact — or at least minimizing damage — also has prompted towns that don’t have dunes or augment their beaches to reconsider the practice.
Exact sand-loss quantities and cost estimates for replenishment are now being calculated based on data collected by surveyors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Environmental Protection and Richard Stockton College’s Coastal Research Center.
When Sandy’s floodwaters receded, the research teams hit the beach to take stock of the erosion caused by the hurricane in all seven of the Army Corps’ project areas on Long Beach Island and in Atlantic City, Brigantine and Ventnor, as well as Avalon, Stone Harbor, North Wildwood, North Wildwood, Cape May and Cape May Point.
Those tabulations will take another week to pull together, Coastal Research Center Director Stewart Farrell said.
As for actual work starting?
“That could take years,” Atlantic City Office of Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said. “But when you have something like (Sandy) happen, it usually happens faster.”
To deal with shoreline protection in the meantime, the Army Corps trucked in about 35,000 tons — about $1.2 million worth — of sand from offshore quarries to shore up dunes in Surf City, Harvey Cedars and Atlantic City this week.
“Everyone recognizes the urgency because the shoreline south of Sandy Hook got whacked hard …. and nor’easter season is here,” Army Corps Coastal Planning Section Chief Jeff Gebert said.
Most of the emergency sand — about 30,000 tons, or $1 million worth — went to Surf City and Harvey Cedars. Sandy so badly decimated those communities and the rest of Long Beach Island that Gov. Chris Christie did not lift evacuation orders until Thursday.
Atlantic City’s evacuation lasted half as long, but was still the longest-ever mandatory shutdown in history for the resort and its multibillion-dollar casino industry.
South of LBI, the emergency replenishment sand went only to Atlantic City — which got about 5,000 tons or $200,000 worth — to shore up dunes along 3.5 miles of oceanfront, Army Corps spokesman Stephen Rochette said.
The emergency dune restoration is separate from the Army Corps Flood Control & Coastal Emergency Program, which has seven project sites along the South Jersey coast.
In Atlantic City, the sand mounds’ performance during the storm so impressed the resort’s vociferous anti-dune contingent that they say they’ve switched camps. Continuing efforts to compromise, however, have prompted the city to push for restoring dunes that are wider and lower than they were before the storm, City Planning & Development Director Keith Mills said.
“The dunes worked,” Mills said.
To Gebert, that’s “intuitively obvious.”
“The bigger the pile of sand you have between you and the ocean, the less damage you’ll have, all other things being equal,” Gebert said. “With that and all the other work we’d done nourishing the beach, that made it less susceptible.”
But some people in Atlantic city have argued that dunes block ocean views and breezes — and unnecessarily, because storm damage is more a function of the beaches’ width and slope.
They’ve grown more vociferous since the onset 18 months ago of state laws aimed at boosting local tourism within five years by stripping the city of development authority in and around casinos. The legislation also prompted local gambling companies to form the Atlantic City Alliance and fund the nonprofit marketing group with the $30 million in annual revenue previously given to the horseracing industry.
Foley was not swayed.
“Dunes on Long Beach Island were 22 feet high — what did they do?” Foley said, referring to the devastation on the narrow island 30 miles north of Atlantic City. “To me, it’s width and elevation of the beach. That’s the key.”
Foley’s fellow anti-dune crusader Pinky Kravitz, a Press of Atlantic City columnist and local radio personality, agreed. His primary concern, however, is their effect on ocean views from The Boardwalk — so Mills’ suggestion for lower, wider dunes seemed like it would satisfy him.
“We never said ‘Take the dunes out.’ We just said ‘Lower them.’ Just to 14 feet so everyone could see the ocean and the beach,” Kravitz said.
In the South Inlet section of Atlantic City, a dilapidated section of the Boardwalk slated for demolition along the Absecon Inlet there was almost entirely removed by the storm.
“The Inlet frontage, that was wide-open and exposed long before the storm hit,” Gebert said. “We have not and do not foresee the occasion where we’d put a beach replenishment on an inlet frontage ... because the constant ebb and flow of tides there is not consistent with building, let alone maintaining a beach fill.”
The 3.75 miles along the ocean in Downbeach, however, remained intact behind the protection of dunes and recently replenished beaches.
“Probably about half of the dunes got breached by the storm, but they did their job. They held (the ocean) back for the most part,” Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell said. “Our city workers are patching up (the dunes) as best as possible and we’re waiting for the Army Corps to come back and rebuild them. We lost a lot of beach also.”
Ventnor is part of the same Army Corps project area as Atlantic City. The 4.75-mile-long stretch of beach underwent an $18 million replenishment this year.
Neither Margate nor Longport at the south end of Absecon Island have participated in Army Corps replenishment projects in the past. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, however, that could change in the future, the towns’ mayors said Thursday.
“We’ll look at that at some point,” Margate Mayor Mike Becker. “We’ll be looking at everything. This was the storm of the century.”
Each town has a dune that was constructed long ago and is tiny in comparison to the extensive networks to the north.
Longport’s stretches between 32nd and 36th avenues. And along that stretch, Atlantic Avenue was spared the sand deposits as deep as a foot or two left elsewhere by the storm, Longport Mayor Nick Russo said.
“The dune did what it is supposed to do,” Russo said.
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