The start of summer in some shore towns may feel more like a construction zone as they gird for beach replenishment projects aimed at repairing erosion caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Work to restore Sandy-damaged beaches and dunes in Atlantic City, Ventnor and towns on Long Beach Island is expected to begin within a few weeks. For those towns, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warns there will be beach closings that will change by the day as crews pump sand and reshape dunes.
“We’re very empathetic to the situation, that we know it’s summer and it’s people’s time away and they’re relaxing,” said Keith Watson, project manager with the Army Corps. “But Sandy changed the game for everyone. There are a lot of people in areas that got hit the hardest that wish we were there now (pumping sand).”
Restoration work the Army Corps is doing in Brigantine, Ocean City and Stone Harbor is nearing completion, after bad weather this winter and spring led to lengthy delays.
Much of the work on South Jersey beaches is considered part of an emergency restoration effort, which means the federal government will pay the full bill, Watson said.
Replenishment projects typically come with a cost to municipalities — the Army Corps pays 75 percent, the state pays 20 percent and municipalities pay 5 percent. But the bill for emergency restoration will be handled solely by the federal government through the $60 billion congressional disaster aid package, Army Corps spokesman Steve Rochette said.
Beaches in areas receiving the emergency restoration work may seem much larger than they were prior to Sandy. That’s because the Army Corps is rebuilding the beaches to the condition they were in after they first were replenished, nearly 10 years ago in some towns.
For municipalities that do not yet have Army Corps replenishment projects — including Margate, Longport, parts of Long Beach Island and north of Island Beach State Park — the process to get wider beaches and dunes could take months to a couple of years, depending on a number of factors, Watson said.
Longport has already said it wants beach replenishment and dunes. Margate is still trying to decide whether it wants a project.
Because those would be new projects, the municipalities may have to pay the usual 5 percent. However, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration is trying to secure full federal funding for all beach restoration work to ensure the entire New Jersey coastline, outside of state parks and federal wildlife refuges, has engineered beaches, said Larry Ragonese, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Building dunes — a popular catchphrase for what the Army Corps considers an engineered beach — does not necessarily mean there will be a tall mound of sand along the oceanfront, Ragonese said. How an engineered beach is designed depends on a number of factors, including the type of sand on site, the geology of the area and how waves affect a particular beach.
For example, a dune system on Absecon Island is significantly lower in elevation and steepness than a dune system on Long Beach Island because of several factors, including the sand’s grain size.
“We’re not trying to force something on towns that they don’t want,” Ragonese said. “If we can reach some kind of agreement with (the towns) that might make them more comfortable and still protect the area, we’re interested in doing that.”
Each replenishment project is required to have studies completed that detail where the Army Corps will get the sand it uses and whether the project is cost effective, said Kathleen White, an engineer with the Army Corps’ Institute for Water Resources Climate and Global Change team. Each project is designed to last 50 years.
Since 2000, the Army Corps also has required that project studies calculate whether the project’s design is substantial enough to survive a rising sea level, White said. While most of the projects in South Jersey were designed prior to 2000, alterations down the road “could change the volume of sand (or) the elevation of the berm,” White said.
Current projections through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Rutgers University estimate the average sea level could rise 1 foot by 2050 and as much as 3 feet by 2100.
Once work is completed on all existing replenishment projects, the state and Army Corps will switch to working on those towns that don’t already have dunes or replenished beaches, Watson said. Bills pending in the state Assembly and Senate would require the DEP to prioritize projects. Both bills have cleared committees.
Theoretically, work to replenish beaches and build dunes along the entire New Jersey coast, from Cape May to Keansburg, could be complete within a year, if getting permits, finalizing design reviews and signing contracts go smoothly, Watson said.
“Everyone is on notice and everyone is working to expedite the process as quickly as we can, but still following all the regulations and laws,” Watson said. “Something that might have taken a year to do, we’re trying to do in three months, and that’s optimistic.”
Beach projects in South Jersey
Long Beach Island: $30.6 million for 3 million cubic yards of sand. Work will begin at the end of May to restore beaches and dunes in Surf City, Brant Beach and Harvey Cedars. The contractor is Great Lakes Dredge and Dock.
Absecon Island: $23.1 million for 2 million cubic yards of sand. Work is expected to begin in mid June to restore beaches and dunes in Atlantic City and Ventnor. Contractor is Weeks Marine.
Brigantine and Ocean City: Combined contract is for $23.9 million. Brigantine will receive 630,000 cubic yards, and Ocean City will receive 1.8 million cubic yards. Work is ongoing, with completion expected in June.
Avalon and Stone Harbor: Cost is still to be determined for 650,000 cubic yards of sand. Work has finished in Avalon, and work in Stone Harbor is expected to be complete in June. Contractor is Norfolk Dredging Co.
Cape May: $9.5 million for 560,000 cubic yards of sand. Work to restore beaches is expected to begin in September. Contractor is Weeks Marine.
Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
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