State officials are cutting dune grass in Atlantic City today and Friday for the first time in the eight years since the mounds were constructed to protect the resort’s $16 billion worth of real estate.
Work crews started mowing at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the area of Central Pier between Tennessee Avenue and St. James Place. They will focus on dunes between Albany and Hartford avenues and near the Tropicana Casino Resort between Hartford and Morris avenues and will determine what to do between Indiana and California avenues based on what they see, said David Rosenblatt, administrator for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Engineering and Construction.
Typically, the grass grows untouched, said DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese.
“The issue is limited to Atlantic City because ... recently, there’s been some clamor for some visibility, to see the ocean better,” Ragonese said.
The DEP decision to trim between 2 and 3 feet off grass atop dunes in Atlantic City is intended as a compromise while researchers complete a study meant to determine whether and how to scale down the dunes, he said.
That wasn’t good enough for Tom Foley, who heads the Atlantic City Office of Emergency Management and lives in the Lower Chelsea section of the resort. After an $18 million beach replenishment and dune reconstruction project that lasted into the summer, the dunes rise higher in Lower Chelsea than the adjacent city of Ventnor — a disparity that irks Foley.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials have attributed that difference to the difference in property values and infrastructure protected by the dunes in each town — an explanation Foley called “absurd”.
“We don't need these dunes — just make the beach wider,” Foley said. “We haven't had them since 1854, and now we have them. They're not natural. ... Get rid of all of them, and bring back the things we need in Atlantic City: the cool breezes from the ocean, and the views.”
To achieve that end, Gov. Chris Christie has pledged support for lowering dunes.
Both would help boost tourism in the resort, adding to the initiative that included a $150 million, five-year marketing campaign, casino deregulation and establishing state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority control of planning and development in the Atlantic City Tourism District — all initiatives resulting from two major pieces of legislation enacted nearly 18 months ago.
Cutting dune grass should improve ocean views by between 50 percent and 75 percent, Ragonese said.
The project will skip beaches between Texas and Ohio avenues, and south of Albany Avenue - which includes Foley’s neighborhood - because dunes there are so high that trimming the grass won’t make a difference, Rosenblatt said.
Lower Chelsea also isn’t considered one of the city’s tourist areas, which Ragonese described as the target of the initiative.
The grass-cutting that started Wednesday won’t disturb the root structure of the plants, so it shouldn’t destabilize the dunes at all. Workers also won’t touch the grass on the ocean side - the most important to keeping dunes intact due to the exposure to the elements, Rosenblatt said.
The city owns the dunes, which are subject to DEP and Army Corps regulation.
City Engineer Bill England cq did not respond to calls for comment.
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