Unless it’s stuck in your eye, a grain of sand is inconsequential.

Even 47.6 billion grains of sand, the amount in a cubic yard, don’t make much of an impact.

But 47.6 trillion grains of sand — the equivalent of 10,000 cubic yards, which is the amount a dredge can pump in a day — can mean the difference between sunning on the beach and sitting in the ocean.

That difference is what keeps elected officials chasing sand, the sole ingredient in the state’s top tourist attraction, with a success rate that has New Jersey leading the nation in beach replenishment projects in the past 20 years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the state has received significantly more sand than Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana have.

Cape May, which the Army Corps considers the poster child for federal projects that have created something out of nothing, and Ocean City each have received nine projects since their initial construction in the early 1990s. Ocean City’s north end alone has received $83.4 million and 14.36 million cubic yards of sand in that span, with costs estimated to reach $442 million by the time its 50-year agreement with the federal government expires in 2041.

Although New Jersey’s shoreline represents only 3 percent of the 5,000-plus miles of U.S. coastline fronting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Gulf of Mexico, its ability to attract federal funds far exceeds its competitors. When the current round of federally funded projects, which will begin in 2015, are completed, almost all of the state’s 98-mile-long developed shoreline from Sandy Hook to Cape May Point will have benefited from beachfill projects in which the federal government has participated.

“New Jersey leads the way for a number of reasons, including the nature of the shore, the strong support of the state government and the state's representatives in Congress, and (Hurricane) Sandy,” said Richard Pearsall, an Army Corps spokesman from the Philadelphia District, which oversees projects from Manasquan Inlet to Cape May. “The New Jersey shore will soon be almost completely protected by federal/state projects.”

The exceptions are the developed coastlines of Barnegat Light at the northeast tip of Long Beach Island, the southwest end of Brigantine and sections of Seven Mile Island (Avalon and Stone Harbor), all of which “have a level of protection from existing beach and dunes that meets or exceeds what would be provided by a federal/state shore protection project,” said Jeffrey Gebert, Sandy planning technical expert with the Philadelphia District. As a result, those three locations are outside the authorized project limits.

The Wildwoods, from Hereford Inlet to Cape May Inlet, will remain the only stretch of coast not to have received a federal beachfill, although study and design of a project there continue. Providing the various stages of review go well and funding is in place, Pearsall said, construction could begin in 2017. Plans call for the transfer of sand from Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, where beaches are as wide as 900 feet, to North Wildwood, where dunes also will be constructed.

The only undeveloped areas along the state’s 130-mile-long Atlantic Ocean coastline are seven miles of inlets and 25 miles of protected parkland, which includes Corsons Inlet State Park in Cape May County.

Where sand is coming next

The Long Beach Island, Margate-Longport and southern Ocean City-Strathmere-Sea Isle City projects will be 100 percent federally funded as part of post-Sandy relief legislation, Pearsall said. The Margate project, however, is stalled in litigation as the city is challenging it and has obtained an injunction against awarding a contract.

The Manasquan Inlet-to-Barnegat Inlet projects initially will be funded 100 percent by the federal government, with the state paying back its share over a long period. Another project, in the Sea Bright to Manasquan reach, will bring sand under separate contracts to Deal Lake-Loch Arbour and to Elberon in Long Branch in 2015. Those North Jersey locations fall under the direction of the Army Corps’ New York District.

Read more about regional beach replenishment projects here.

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Print Director

Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com.