New Jersey has spent more on beach replenishment than nearly every other state, yet is still falling short of preserving its coasts in the face of sea-level rise and extreme weather.
That’s according to California-based nonprofit the Surfrider Foundation, which gave New Jersey a failing grade for coastal preservation in its 2018 State of the Beach Report Card earlier this month.
Nearly half of the 30 states that were evaluated, including New Jersey, scored a D or F grade.
The report cites poor sediment management, few regulations on coastal armoring, overdevelopment and a lack of a statewide sea-level rise policy as contributing to the state’s vulnerable beaches.
John Weber, mid-Atlantic regional manager of the Surfrider Foundation, said part of the reason New Jersey scored low is because the state has invested in seawalls and bulkheads instead of sand dunes, a more natural barrier.
Waves strike the seawalls and bounce back, he said, taking sand with it and further eroding beaches. In Atlantic City, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a seawall at the Absecon Inlet recently that involved 99,000 tons of stone.
“If you put a seawall on an eroding beach to protect private property, it will make our public resource disappear,” Weber said.
Stephen Rochette, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District, said seawalls can increase the rate of erosion along beaches, but that it varies with each beach.
He said placing sand on beaches suffering from erosion is a more adaptable alternative, though the Surfrider report criticizes New Jersey's reliance on beach fill and says it lacks "strict permit requirements and monitoring plans."
In Atlantic County, there has been more than 19 million cubic yards of sand placed on beaches since replenishment projects began, according to Stockton's Coastal Research Center. Nearly $56 million has been spent.
"It depends on the conditions and the area in question," Rochette said. "Our beachfill projects are the result of studies where we compare various measures and ultimately select the most cost effective solution."
Another issue: Allowing building too close to the shoreline.
In New Jersey, any structure built or reconstructed on a beach or dune or within 150 feet of a tidal water body must receive a Coastal Area Facility Review Act permit from the Department of Environmental Protection. New homes built in flood zones are required to be elevated.
But a report from Zillow last month found nearly 100,000 homes in Cape May and Atlantic counties will be at risk of yearly coastal flooding by 2100.
"We have to admit original sin. We built too close to the ocean in the first place," Weber said. "The permitting process is too lenient and we need stronger standards... This is why New Jersey looks like New Jersey."