CAPE MAY — An estimated 525 tons of rocks have been removed from city beaches after an experimental project to reconfigure the strand littered the sand with large stones.
The rock removal operation led to temporary closing of beach sections beginning in the middle of May, although no work was done on the Memorial Day weekend.
There are still some rocks on the beach, but City Manager Bruce MacLeod said 2,500 feet of beach running east from Convention Hall was cleared.
“The Army Corps (of Engineers) envisioned 3,000 tons of stone. There are still some more deposits we may have to work on after the season,” said MacLeod.
Nobody is entirely sure where the rocks came from. They began showing up earlier this year after the Army Corps of Engineers completed a $9 million beach replenishment project. The job included pumping 620,000 cubic yards of sand from an offshore burrow site, but that material went through screens and came in without rocks in it. That sand all went to the U.S. Coast Guard base on the far eastern side of town.
The beaches where the rocks appeared were part of an experimental project called “back-passing”, where sand is moved from larger beaches to ones that are more severely eroded. The idea is to reconfigure the beaches so there is a more gradual slope and therefore the waves break further offshore. This is safer for bathers and surfers.
The rocks, the largest being the size of a baseball or clenched fist, appeared on back-passed beaches between Gurney Street and Trenton Avenue.
MacLeod said one theory is the rocks were under the sand that was removed. Another is they were brought in more recently by waves.
The Army Corps and state Department of Environmental Protection paid the bulk of the $160,000 contract with Reilly Construction to remove the rocks. The goal was to clear a 50-foot-wide swath along 4,200 feet of beach or as much as could get completed by June 15. There may be more work to do in the future, but maybe not as sand pumped on the Coast Guard base is starting to drift towards city beaches.
“We’re not sure what’s ahead of us but it’s something we’ll be watchful of and revisit at the end of the summer,” MacLeod said.
Besides the rocks, some residents have complained the back-passing removed too much sand in certain areas.
“You back-passed at Queen, Madison and Jefferson and when the tide is full there is almost no sand there. I’m in favor of beach replenishment but back-passing just creates another problem,” said New York Avenue resident Tim Walsh.
Mayor Ed Mahaney said a solution could be on the way as the Coast Guard sand drifts west.
“We’re starting to see some of it,” Mahaney said.
The rocks that were removed have been put to use at six different locations by the Army Corps and DEP, MacLeod said. Some have been used at the parking lot at Higbee Beach.
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