MARGATE — The idea was unwelcome.
Most agreed the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to create a dune and outflow pipe system along the length of the city’s beaches would be a hassle. Others claimed it would limit access and reshape the entire beach as longtime visitors had always known it.
Then there were the lawsuits, social media campaigns and protests, and plenty of frustrations vented to community leaders as the project kicked off.
With the project ostensibly complete and Margate wrapping up its first summer with its newly shaped and somewhat unfamiliar beach, the consensus is in. And while it’s definitely different, concerns about the new beach appear to have diminished.
“There are a handful of people who don’t like the dunes and never will,” Margate Beach Patrol Capt. Greg Smallwood said. “It didn’t affect the crowds, I’ll tell you that. On nice days, they still came out like they always do.”
The beach-replenishment and rebuilding project for Absecon Island cost $63 million, with $19 million added for extra drainage work in Margate.
The federal government paid for 100 percent of the work in Margate and Longport.
Many people in Margate never wanted the dune project. The city sued to try to stop it, saying its bulkheads were all it needed. But they gave up the suit in 2016.
A group of homeowners then sued to try to stop the project, arguing it would create a health hazard by allowing water to pool near the bulkheads. But the suit failed, and the dunes were built in 2017. Almost immediately, drainage problems appeared.
But now, the work is done. Dune grass has sprouted. The outflow pipes are relatively hidden. The beach is wider. For residents and summer visitors, the changes aren’t all bad. Still, there are improvements that can be made.
“I say they did a good job, but the dunes could have been done differently. A little more access should have been considered,” Atlantic County resident Domenic Cannuccio said as he enjoyed the beach with some friends Labor Day weekend. “It’s a little harder to get up and down. You have to remember, you have a bunch of people who can’t walk well, and these beaches, they’re not great for scooters.”
Access has been a point of contention since the dune project began. It’s something Margate officials had heard from the public about many times. Those representing the city’s senior and disabled populations have lamented the reduction in access and claim the Army Corps has violated ADA regulations with its restrictive construction.
Smallwood said the Beach Patrol has made it a point this summer to help provide access. Motorized buggies were used throughout the season to drive visitors over the dunes and down to the water, the type of assistance Margate did not have to offer before the dune project began.
Some residents have called for ramps to be built at more locations. Others see opportunities for easy fixes to help relieve some of the new burden.
Egg Harbor Township residents Tom Armstrong and Mike Thom brought their children to Margate on Monday for a last hurrah before the start of school.
Armstrong said he sees the benefit of a larger beach, for protection as well as accommodating large summer crowds.
It’s not an easy trek, however, Thom said.
“When you carry all that stuff down onto the beach for your kids, it (stinks),” he said. “They need to extend the (access) mats all the way down to the beach to make it easier to get up and down.”
There is a silver lining with the new dune system, some residents say. Though Margate has lost the wide-open ocean vistas it once enjoyed, the dunes could be the perfect support for a boardwalk.
A group of residents and Margate property owners led by Glenn Klotz is hoping to convince legislators to pony up to replace the boardwalk that washed away in some of the 20th century’s nastiest storms. The problems, Klotz said, were that it was built too close to the water and that it had no protection. The new dune system solves that, he said.
Longtime Ventnor resident and Margate Burger Shack employee Halina Komenda said a boardwalk would be a boon to business. The boardwalk group’s proposed plan would link Margate’s hypothetical boards to Ventnor and Atlantic City’s, creating a contiguous, seven-mile stretch.
“We’re all for it, but who knows,” she said.