MARGATE — Terry Auerbach of South Exeter Avenue is “heartbroken” about what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing to the beach.
So is Irene Mederos of Fredericksburg Avenue, who has lived two houses from the beach for more than 70 years.
Steve Alten of Adams Avenue is livid.
“It’s a mess. A real horror story. They are bulldozing the ecosystem here. They are spending all this money, but not concentrating on the bay, which is the real problem. Everyone I talk to is complaining. I can’t find one person to say this is a good idea,” Alten said.
“Margate had the best beach anywhere,” Mederos said. “Now, it’s not much of a beach.”
Auerbach, who has a beachfront property, said the rain Sunday and Monday collected in the drainage area behind the dune but did not percolate within 24 hours as Army Corps engineers promised.
“I’ve been here my whole life,” she said. “Now I have two Olympic-sized swimming pools outside my house.”
Several inches of water collected behind the 1,000-foot section of dune under construction from Frederickburg to Delavan avenues. A drainage pipe on Exeter Avenue that brought stormwater to the ocean has been covered up by the dune.
Auerbach said Margate has always had drainage issues, but it was effectively managed by the city’s Public Works Department.
“They dug a trench to take it away, and it was fine,” she said.
Even though she lost her first-floor view of the ocean, Auerbach said that is not her concern.
“Now I’m concerned about mosquitoes, trash and mold. I care about the ecosystem of the beach,” she said. “The entire city is really upset.”
A representative of the state Department of Environmental Protection said the problem is temporary.
“This is a temporary condition due to the construction activity, the pumping of the sand and water, and the heavy rains of the last couple of days. There’s just a lot of saturation,” DEP spokesman Bob Considine wrote in an email.
Public Works Director Frank Ricciotti said there is nothing the city can do to remove the stormwater and ocean water that has collected behind the dune.
“We can’t get in there because it’s still their active work site,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
“It rained hard, but it was not a major rain event,” Ricciotti said. “The water has nowhere to go, and it’s not percolating. It’s still muddy in areas, and there are large puddles.”
That’s exactly what city officials have been saying would happen. Their experts testified as such in court.
The Army Corps’ engineering plan removed about two feet of sand from the back side of the dune to lower the beach so stormwater could get through the scuppers and onto the beach, Ricciotti said.
“They essentially created a gully,” he said.
He believes when it’s hot and sunny, it will become a health hazard for residents and beachgoers.
On Tuesday, sand was being moved under the Margate Fishing Pier. At low tide at 4 p.m., there was no water under the pier.
“The dune is as high as the Margate Pier,” Ricciotti said. “You can no longer fish there.”
New equipment the city is purchasing at a cost of more than $300,000 will help scrape the back side of the beach, but it will not solve the drainage issue, Ricciotti said.
Nicole Granata, of Boca Raton, Florida, rented a house one removed from the beach for 10 days and was “devastated” to find out the dune was being constructed.
“Even the owner didn’t know it was going on,” she said. “In fact, she called me as I was driving here to say it might be happening, but she did not know exactly when.”
Granata said a huge puddle of water has been on the beach in front of her rented home since it rained Sunday.
“I’m so upset about it. You pay top dollar to be at the beach, and you can’t even utilize it. We have to walk two blocks down and go around. That’s not the worst thing, but there’s no view, and there’s noise from construction equipment all night long,” she said.
Mederos said she used to be able to sit on her porch and see the ocean, but now all she can see is a wall of sand.
“And you have to be ready for a long walk to the beach. That’s not easy for older people,” she said.
She had to walk through mucky sand to get over the dune.
“The Army Corps said they would fix any drainage problems. The drainage area they created is too deep, and the water table is too high. Am I going to have to walk through water every time it rains? It was a nice beach, now it’s a lake,” she said.
A worker from Weeks Marine, the company building the dune system, was digging a small hole in the sand.
“It’s 2½ inches,” he said over the walkie-talkie.
He was measuring the water table.
Considine said the state and Army Corps is finalizing a long-term engineering solution to Margate's longstanding stormwater issues.
“Basically, it’s a drainage collection system that would involve the discharge of the storm water to the ocean, which would alleviate the need for the city to use trenching from the bulkhead to the ocean. The plan would be in conjunction with the current Army Corps project.”
He was not specific about what the plan would entail.
“As of yesterday, they were trying to figure out how to correct the problem,” Mayor Michael Becker said Tuesday afternoon. “It proves our point that the water will not perc.”
Becker said the back side of the dune was lowered to 4 feet above sea level, and the Army Corps is considering raising it another foot.
“It’s just not percolating the way they said it would, and it’s not making my life any easier,” he said.
The project, which started in Margate on July 5, and will take two months, according to the Army Corps' latest schedule. The project will roll south to Longport by early September, and start in Ventnor in late August and early September.