MARGATE — Shirley Frankel, a city resident for the past 50 years, can’t look at the ocean from behind a closed-off entrance at Plymouth Road without getting upset.
“It’s ruined our beaches,” Frankel, 86, said Friday of a now-halted beach project. “We’ve never had a problem with flooding on this street.”
Since July, residents have watched in frustration as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built dunes along Margate’s beaches, part of a $63.3 million project to place 3.8 million cubic yards of sand onto eight miles of beach on Absecon Island from Atlantic City to Longport.
But when the space between the dunes and the bulkhead flooded during rainstorms, creating a massive, approximately nine-blocks-long lake and closing beaches in the process, that frustration turned to anger.
The city went to court to stop the project, and Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez issued a restraining order Thursday to temporarily stop the dune project, giving the city, the Army Corps and the state Department of Environmental Protection a week to work up a solution.
The three parties held their first post-court meeting on the matter Friday, a day after city commissioners approved a $100,000 emergency appropriation for potential expenses in its latest legal fight against the dunes.
Under Mendez’s order, the DEP and Army Corps have until Wednesday to file briefs on short- and long-term solutions to the drainage problems, and the parties will meet again in court Friday, Aug. 11.
Meanwhile, all beaches, with the exception of Huntington Avenue — which is serving as a staging area for heavy equipment used in the beach-work project— were expected to be reopened and staffed by lifeguards this weekend, Commissioner John Amodeo said.
Even so, the project has cast a shadow on the city’s short summer.
“All of the people around here rely on the visitors,” said Inderdeep Bhullar, owner of Downbeach Wine and Liquors on Ventnor Avenue.
Bhullar said he noticed a decrease in business after the lake formed following last weekend’s downpour.
His business, like most others, makes the most money during the summer, when visitors, or as Bhullar likes to call them, “party people,” are in town. And they’ve been avoiding the area.
Real estate agencies say their weekly and seasonal rentals are also down, according to Margate Business Association President Ed Berger.
“Real estate offices are telling us that some of the beachfront properties that are for sale — a lot of the deals are in limbo right now because people want to see what’s happening with the beach project first,” Berger said.
Although one business emailed the business group and said their sales are down 40 percent over last year, Berger said he didn’t have specific numbers.
But most businesses he’s heard from cited a decrease in traffic and sales.
“We want everybody to understand that when you talk about the impact it has on business, you’re not talking about the impact it has on Macy’s or Home Depot. They are individually owned businesses owned by families, families that were severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy years ago,” Berger said. “They really had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and really dig deep into their savings to not only put their businesses but also their homes back together again.”
Visitors were also disappointed.
“We’re avoiding that part of the beach,” said Ellen Gordon, who’s visiting her parents in the city from California with her husband and two sons. “It just doesn’t look appealing.”
City businesses and nonprofit organizations south of the dune project have yet to feel a negative impact, but they are worried.
“We’re very fearful that when it does get here, it will be a problem not only for Lucy and our neighbors at (Ventura’s) Greenhouse, but everybody in Margate,” said Save Lucy Committee Executive Director Rich Helfant.
Most of Lucy the Elephant’s traffic arrives by car, but all of the Lucy Beach Grille’s traffic comes from the beach, he said.
“It will have a terrible effect,” Helfant said.
Helfant had a message for the mayor, who previously said he would call the Public Works director to get bulldozers ready to knock down the dunes if a significant storm washed away the beach.
“He can count on Lucy to lead the bulldozers,” Helfant said.
Staff Writer Nanette LoBiondo Galloway contributed to this report.