Cape May Point is always happy to see a sand-pumping dredge parked just offshore, but it seems to be taking on more significance this year due to Hurricane Sandy.

The October storm that caused massive damage along the New Jersey coast hardly caused any problems in the borough. Many credit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for periodic beach-replenishment projects that have helped create a wide beach and a huge dune system. The Army Corps, as part of an $8 million project funded prior to Sandy, is pumping 46,000 cubic yards of sand on Saint Peter’s Beach and has already restored the beaches at the end of Lighthouse Avenue with more than 90,000 cubic yards. The project is also bringing sand to Cape May and Lower Township beaches, for a total of 365,000 cubic yards.

The other reason borough officials are extra happy to see the dredge right now is that many shore towns are clamoring for sand following Sandy.

“I think we’re so fortunate, and I hope other towns are as fortunate as us. So far it’s proven itself. It’s protected the town,” Borough Administrator Connie Mahon said.

The borough got its first big federal beach-replenishment project in 2005, and with it came a commitment to pump fresh sand in every four years for a half-century. The current contract was awarded in September, at least a month before Sandy had other towns lining up looking for sand, Army Corps project engineer Dwight Pakan said.

Ocean City and Brigantine also had funding for beach projects in fiscal 2012, prior to Sandy, and Pakan said the dredge Illinois, currently working off Fire Island, N.Y., will head to Brigantine in January. After Brigantine, the dredge owned by the Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. will head to Ocean City.

Towns waiting for help restoring beaches eroded by Sandy may have to wait a bit longer, though Pakan said the “fiscal cliff” issues in Washington that are threatening future funding will not affect fiscal 2012 beach projects.

“This was scheduled beachfill work way in advance of Sandy. It’s not intended to take away from folks in dire need of sand,” Pakan said.

Mahon said the sand is coming from an area about seven miles offshore, farther than previous projects, and between that and smaller screens on the dredge that are removing rocks, the quality is much improved.

“The sand quality is tremendous. It’s very clean sand,” Mahon said.

The project will move next to Cape May, where the Cove Beach area will be filled in and a new dune will be constructed beginning at The Cove Restaurant and heading west. Cove Beach is slated to get 193,000 cubic yards of sand.

Cape May Mayor Ed Mahaney said there is no plan to continue an experiment to build a slope more conducive to surfers and swimmers as the city received in the previous beach-replenishment. He said it did create a safer beach for swimmers but allowed Hurricane Sandy to push ocean waters farther inland. Mahaney said an analysis is still being done of that project, but more detailed engineering work would have to be conducted before doing it again.

“It was very successful reducing the slope of the beach and reducing head and neck injuries. There was a downside. It reduced slope so much the storm surge got up on the beach more quickly,” Mahaney said.

The project includes more than beach replenishment. The 2.3-mile stretch of beach also enhances the ecosystem at Cape May Point State Park and The Nature Conservancy’s land off Sunset Boulevard that serves migratory birds. The beachfront next to those areas serves as key nesting grounds for the endangered piping plover, a beach-nesting shorebird. The project also includes public beach-access improvements, and:

  • Extends an outfall pipe that drains several state park ponds into the ocean. The pipe is buried in sand just east of the World War II concrete bunker on the beach. It will be extended 108 feet into the ocean.
  • Pumps sand in front of Cape May Point State Park in Lower Township
  • Repairs walkways for the handicapped on the beaches at Cape May Point
  • Elevates two dirt pathways that have settled on The Nature Conservancy property along Sunset Boulevard
  • Completes roadwork along the beach behind the dune system at Cape May Point State Park
  • Fixes snow and rope fences, used in plover nest sites, along the dunes
  • Removes vegetation from three ponds to make them more attractive to plovers

The Army Corps is paying for 65 percent of the project. The other 35 percent is mostly paid by the state, though local towns fund one-quarter of the state’s share. Cape May has some credits from previous projects and is unsure yet what its bill will be. The city uses beach-tag revenue to pay for replenishment projects.

Mahon said the borough expects its share to be $183,000 and has already bonded for it. The borough does not use beach-tag revenue because the tags produce $20,000 to $50,000 less each year than what is needed just to run the beaches, not including the beach projects.

“Local taxpayers fund the difference,” Mahon said.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711