OCEAN CITY – Under dark skies and a light drizzle, and with sand being pumped onto the beach behind him, Mayor Jay Gillian proclaimed Friday “a great day in Ocean City,” as he joined federal, state and local officials in celebrating the start of a $57.6 million beach replenishment project in upper Cape May County.

“This is not about people laying on the beach,” said Gillian, whose remarks preceded comments from Congressman Frank LoBiondo, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Michael Bliss. “It’s about the property we have, and we have a lot of property up and down these eight miles.”

The beach replenishment project is bringing the first federally funded sand ever to the city’s south end. Construction, which started Thursday on the 42nd Street beach, will extend north to 36th Street and south to 59th Street. Work is expected to be completed in early July.

The project also includes the Strathmere section of UpperTownship and all of Sea Isle City. Approximately 4.2 million cubic yards of sand will be pumped over the 9.2-mile length of the project, Martin said.

The completion date for beach construction in those two municipalities is unknown for several reasons. The dredge Illinois has been delayed from arriving in the area; once here, it will be used on a private project in Avalon with a June 29 completion date; and the Strathmere portion of the job will require 1.3 million cubic yards of sand, instead of the original estimate of 400,000 cubic yards, tripling the time needed to complete work there.

LoBiondo, who was lauded by several speakers for his role in convincing Congress to fund beach replenishment projects, called the current job “a one-time deal” as it is fully funded by the federal government. The usual partnership involves the federal government paying 65 percent and the state and local entities paying the remaining 35 percent.

“It’s a great win for everybody,” LoBiondo said.

The Ocean City-Ludlam Island project is “part of a larger, comprehensive plan from top to bottom” of the state for beach fills, Martin said. “Sandy showed us we had a lot of gaps,” he said.

One of the missing pieces in the 130 miles of New Jersey’s developed coastline continues to be Margate, which is fighting inclusion in the Absecon Island beach replenishment project. The resort maintains beach and dune construction will not provide the best protection for the community.

“We are disappointed the mayor and leadership have gone down this path,” Martin said of Margate, adding state and federal officials continue to hope for a satisfactory resolution of the issue.

The hopper dredge Liberty Island is pumping sand ashore in Ocean City to build dunes 13 feet above sea level with a 25-foot wide top. Beaches will extend 100 feet seaward from the base of the dunes. On Ludlam Island, the dunes will be 15 feet above sea level with a 25-foot wide top. Beaches there will extend 50 feet seaward from the base of the dunes.

When the project is complete, the entire island of Ocean City will be on a three-year cycle and Ludlam Island on a five-year replenishment cycle with the federal government.

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