MARGATE — The constant vibration, pounding and beeping of heavy equipment pushing sand on the beach 24 hours a day to build protective dunes on Absecon Island is enough to keep even the heaviest sleepers awake at night.
When Ventnor Commissioner Lance Landgraf talked about the dune-building process at a recent public meeting, he told residents to close their windows at night and keep their air conditioners running. Although Ventnor got a temporary reprieve during the summer from the Army Corps of Engineers project, residents of Margate, where the dune-building project was never welcomed, are not so fortunate.
On Thursday, July 13, Alex Ciccotelli, of Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, who lives with his son during the summer at his Clarendon Avenue beachfront home, watched several heavy equipment operators from Weeks Marine of Cranford push sand around to create the dune.
As the big track loaders backed up and descended the hill, they beeped loudly, while the clunking of their track sprockets vibrated. The closer they got to the bulkhead, the louder they became.
“The house is rocking and rolling like a category 2 earthquake,” Ciccotelli said.
Ciccotelli is a contractor and helped his son rebuild the stucco home after he bought it a year and a half ago. He explained how the old stucco walls were cracked from age, which allowed water to seep in and rot the wood in the exterior walls.
“We had to replace everything, in and out,” he said.
Now, he’s concerned the vibrations might crack the new stucco finish.
“I hope it doesn’t damage our home,” he said.
According to the Army Corps, the contractor is using vibration monitoring seismographs to ensure vibrations remain “below the prescribed threshold that could cause any structural damage within homes.”
Ciccotelli said the contractors worked through the night and early that morning to remove the old dune, which was built years ago and covered with dune grass, to fashion the new dune.
“The ducks and mallards have nests in there,” he said, pointing to what remained of the grassy dune.
According to the Army Corps, dune grass will be planted on top of the new dune during the winter, when plants are dormant.
Ciccotelli was standing on the deck about 12 feet above the mean high tide level and could no longer see the waves breaking past the new dune.
“It’s going to look like Lake Superior out there,” he said. “That’s sad. I wish they could have made it two feet lower so people can see the waves breaking from the bulkhead.”
Several curiosity seekers could be seen ascending beach access points to watch the progress being made.
Ciccotelli said the machines go all night long. The work is being lit by huge floodlights that shine into his expansive windows.
“It’s pretty bright at night,” he said.
Nevertheless, anticipating additional shore protection, his comments were not all negative.
“The quality of their work is fine. I just wish it was a few feet lower.”
Although the Army Corps says homeowners can expect to see construction in front of their homes for about five days, the project is moving along pretty quickly, Ciccotelli said.
“They’ll be away from here before you know it,” he said.
The dune-building and beachfill operation is proceeding south about 100 feet a day in a rolling fashion toward Longport, at a cost of about $100,000 a day. About 1,000 feet of beach will be closed as the project moves down the beach. To remain “economically feasible” and minimize impact on residents, the project must go 24/7, Army Corps officials say.
Ciccotelli looked through his binoculars to three narrow posts near the shoreline. Each had a little white flag about midway up.
“That’s how high the beach will be when they are done,” he said.
Specifications show the dune in Ventnor, Margate and Longport will be at an elevation of 12.75 feet and the berm — the flat portion of the beach between the toe of the dune and the water line — is 100 feet wide.
To extend the beach, pipes will pump water and sand from an offshore borrow site that has sand that is most compatible with the sand already on the beach, Army Corps officials posted on the agency's website. Some of that is expected to erode during the first year.
The federal government is paying 100 percent of the cost of building the dune.