South Jersey hasn’t seen a coastal enforcement action this assertive by the state Department of Environmental Protection in years.
Earlier this month, the DEP accused North Wildwood of violating New Jersey’s Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (the notoriously rigid CAFRA), the Flood Hazard Area Control Act, the Freshwater Wetlands Act and the Water Pollution Control Act. That’s more than enough to put fear in municipal officials and worry in local taxpayers.
The DEP said the city removed 8 acres of vegetation-stabilized dunes and wetlands, built an oceanfront bulkhead, worked with a contractor to build multiple buildings and extended sewer service to Seaport Pier — without required engineering and environmental reviews, and approvals.
The DEP commissioner herself, Catherine McCabe, said, “North Wildwood showed complete disregard for these laws and regulations and must stop work immediately.” She said the laws have long been in place to protect public safety, fragile ecosystems and wildlife habitat.
The department ordered a halt to all unauthorized construction along 20 blocks of the oceanfront until approvals from the DEP are obtained. And where they’re not, well, conditions must be restored and structures removed.
North Wildwood wrote a letter to the DEP, which the agency made public, denying the city had illegally destroyed dunes and wetlands, saying it had only repaired erosion to part of the dunes. Its attorney said the city has permission to move around as much as 300,000 cubic yards of sand.
The letter claimed the dunes and sand beach in the area eroded so badly that “they largely ceased to exist,” forcing the city to import sand to where the dune had been. The city denied the CAFRA and Freshwater Wetlands Act violations and asked to meet with DEP “and discuss a path forward.”
A lawyer for the contractor, BG Capital, said some of the improvements to the property were made before the waterfront development laws cited by the DEP, which would put them under different rules. The company also promised to address other areas of contention.
The DEP may seek to get these charges resolved more quickly than usual, since the violations may affect seawall repairs it is scheduled to start this month with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at adjacent Hereford Inlet.
We hope the DEP, North Wildwood and the contractor can soon arrive at a settlement that meets New Jersey’s coastal regulations, preserves the habitat, supports the state’s reputation for vigorous environmental enforcement, and seems reasonable to all parties. That sounds challenging enough, but if it can be done without either side resorting to legal action, so much the better.