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N.J. Shore points deal with severe beach erosion

When thousands of our area residents start heading for the Jersey shore in a few weeks, few will be thinking about some of the major beach erosion issues facing many of these communities.

And it’s getting worse by the year, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Erosion and flooding are the primary coastal hazards that lead to the loss of lives or damage to property and infrastructure in developed coastal areas, according to a recent report. Some of you who own prime coastal beach properties may also have been impacted, too, or are concerned about possible problems coming your way.

New Jersey and its coastal communities are vulnerable to the damaging impact of major storms along its 127 miles of coastline. New Jersey’s coastal zone includes portions of eight counties and 126 municipalities.

A coastal storm can occur at any time of the year and at varying levels of severity and intensity. One of the greatest threats from a coastal storm is flooding caused by storm surge.

These coastal storms play havoc with community beaches, so it seems as if many of these desirable communities are constantly replacing sand to make the beaches more welcoming to visitors, the lifeblood of these communities’ economic health, particularly in the summer.

The report notes that historically some of the methods used by municipalities and property-owners to stop or slow down coastal erosion or shoreline change have actually worsened the problem.

“Attempting to halt the natural process of erosion with parallel or perpendicular structures such as sea walls and other hard structures typically worsens the erosion in front of the structure, prevents or starves any sediment behind the structure and subjects down-drift beaches to increased erosion,” the report says.

As a result, some of the state’s greatest assets and attractions - beaches, dunes, barrier beaches, salt marshes and estuaries - are threatened and will slowly disappear as the sediment sources that feed and sustain them are eliminated.

As beachgoers plan their summer getaways, some shore communities are scrambling to get their beaches in shape before the hordes of visitors descend upon them starting in earnest in July and August when the ocean water temperature becomes friendlier.

Many New Jersey coastal towns, including Ocean City, were pummeled by a powerful nor’easter in March. Ocean City recently completed a $24.5 million sand replenishment project from 14th Street to Seaview Avenue, but the nor’easter’s tropical force winds caused much damage to the beaches again.

North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said that sections of his community’s beaches are in “bad shape.” In previous years, trucks would cart sand from Wildwood’s much larger beaches to North Wildwood, even neighboring Wildwood Crest, but things are different now, he said. The erosion has become so severe that it has crept up to some of the amusement piers preventing the trucks from getting around them, Rosenello said.

The mayor is asking for special permission to have dredging take place to replenish sand on the beaches for the summer, along with more funding from the state. He has made a personal plea to Gov. Phil Murphy, contending that the state is ultimately responsible and needs to act quickly.

The state’s DEP and North Wildwood officials have been engaged in contentious bickering. The DEP fined North Wildwood $12.8 million earlier this year for unauthorized work on its beaches. The city has countersued, and the case is still being battled in the courts.

Some beach communities rely on replenishment projects through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but some coastal mayors said the bureaucratic red tape in getting action from the federal government often is an exercise in futility, or if there is agreement on action it takes forever for the projects to be completed.

Meanwhile in Strathmere, Cape May County, beaches are in terrible shape. Because of significant beach erosion and steep drop offs, four entrances at the north end of the community are closed off with signs and fencing.

The Army Corps of Engineers has a beach replenishment project scheduled for August, but Strathmere officials say they are working feverishly to get the beaches ready for this summer.

Shore point officials are asking for the public’s patience as they tackle these issues, but in many cases patience is in short supply when vacationers lay out hefty sums of cash for their annual getaway only to be confronted by construction and inconveniences.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.