Ocean City’s proposal to restore and enhance a major island that shields part of the city from the back bay looks promising for residents and wildlife.
The plan, funded by $2 million from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $1.2 million from the city, would roll back the degradation of Shooting Island to its condition in 1978. Since then, some parts of its shore have receded by 60 feet.
That will entail rebuilding 9 acres to return it to its 150-acre size and protecting almost a mile of its water’s edge with two kinds of living shoreline. Where the wave action is strongest, a stone sill with large rocks will cover 3,200 feet to the high-water line, allowing storms to wash over and deposit silt on the island. Elsewhere, 1,900 feet of interlocking concrete blocks, suitable for hosting oysters and other shore life, will blunt the impact of the water.
Taxpayer advocates questioned which city blocks would benefit from the Shooting Island improvement. They also questioned the findings of the environmental planners and engineers on things like wind direction and wave action.
To their credit, the advocates visited some tiny living shoreline demonstration projects in Brigantine in preparation for considering Ocean City’s project. Those each stabilized areas about 100 feet long that face the back bay — but they only show how the materials are used to reduce erosion and flooding while keeping the shoreline as natural as possible.
The Shooting Island project would ensure that a whole island protecting a barrier island continues to serve that function and not just disappear someday. It is just northwest of the middle of the city and depending on wind direction in a storm, the project looks like it could benefit about a third of the city’s back-bay coast.
As far as the technical findings of the project planners and designers, absent a question from another expert in this field, their work should be trusted. Living shorelines are relatively new, but big projects already are moving ahead at Gandy’s Beach/Money Island on Delaware Bay in Cumberland County and on a back-bay peninsula protecting West Wildwood.
Ocean City deserves credit for taking responsibility for its immediate environment and proactively seeking to improve the resilience of its shoreline and reduce storm flooding and damage. The city would also be helping preserve an important piece of the Cape May Wetlands Wildlife Management Area.
We hope the project proceeds and becomes another good example for Jersey Shore municipalities, which will need to adapt in many ways to rising seas this century.