Ventnor will soon regain some of the sand its beaches lost to Hurricane Sandy - without most of its beach users having to move out of the way of the beach-rebuilding bulldozers.
Contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started moving 40-foot sections of rust-iron pipe onto the beach last week. By Sunday, about 160 of those pipes were piled up and cordoned off near the city's lifeguard headquarters, adding up to almost a mile and a quarter of the pipe that has been a familiar sight on some local beaches in recent years.
But Keith Watson, the project manager for the Army Corps, could not say exactly when those pipes will be hooked up to the sand-pumping dredge to start bolstering Ventnor's beaches.
Watson said the project started earlier this year in Atlantic City and was originally scheduled to reach Ventnor by early September. But troubles with with the dredge itself pushed the work behind schedule, and forced the contractor to bring a new dredge to keep pumping sand onto local beaches.
"The whole project was supposed to be completed by October, but they've run into mechanical difficulties," Watson said.
By Sunday, the first day of fall, the pipes on the Atlantic City beach reached to near Annapolis Avenue, a bit less than a mile from the staging area now set up in Ventnor.
And while the date the work will hit the beach in Ventnor was unclear, he added that the actual sand-pumping "should take about two to three weeks. But if the weather doesn't cooperate, the completion date gets pushed further out."
After the sand is blasted in through miles of pipes and shaped into a beach, there should be about another month of detail work to finish the job, the project manager said.
While the plans call for 500,000 cubic yards of sand to be added to the beach, Watson added that the job won't include any major additions to Ventnor's dune system.
"The project will be built as it was before Sandy hit," he said, adding that this job is officially considered part of the federal emergency response to last year's hurricane.
Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell is happy to see the sand coming - and not at all unhappy with the delays in the schedule that pushed the work back so the project starts in late September or early October, and not in July or August, as one beach-rebuilding did a few years ago.
"I was real happy they got a late start," Bagnell said, adding that when he heard about the schedule being pushed back, the news "just broke my heart, ruined my day. I said, 'Aw, can't you please just lay those big pipes on our beach for the rest of summer, just for old time's sake?'"
Both officials added that the work in Ventnor is unrelated to any future plans in neighboring Margate - where local officials and residents have been debating whether they want a beach-rebuilding project that would add new dunes to town's beachfront.
Bagnell added that the only way Ventnor's dunes will be extended to the end of the Boardwalk - as they were in the town's first major beach-rebuilding project in 2004 - is if Margate voters approve adding dunes there.
For now, Bagnell said, "They're just going to regrade the beach. The dune has to taper off, it can't make an abrupt end." But he said the project plans do call for repairing some of "the oceanside face of (Ventnor's) dunes where they eroded away" in the hurricane.
One regular on Ventnor's beaches, even on these late-September days, confirmed that he and some of his beach buddies were happy to see the beeping bulldozers and spewing sand wait until the start of fall.
"Fortunately, we're catching a break on this," said Mike Festa, a retired Ventnor firefighter who lives in the city. "All during the winter, we were saying, 'I heard it was going to be right in front of us on the Fourth of July.' There was a lot of talk like that going around - and we did go through that one year."
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