Southern New Jersey towns scramble to repair their most valuable real estate: The beach

Beachgoers relax Friday in Surf City near Fifth Street. Photo by: Bill Gross

By ROB SPAHR Press of A.C. Staff Writer | Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The sound of hammers and the sight of heavy machinery are reminders that southern New Jersey beaches were battered by a heavy winter storm season and that a race is on to have them all ready for Memorial Day weekend.

Sections of beaches in four towns in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties have all been washed away and are unusable. Repair work could take until the end of June in some cases. Shore town officials are stressing that there will be sand for the tourists to lie on, although they may not have as much territory as they’re accustomed to; many beaches are shorter at high tide than last summer.

Beach fills are scheduled to start today in Cape May County’s Avalon and Sea Isle City for a $10.4 million project set to conclude by June 30. To meet the deadline following delays, Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge & Dock doubled its efforts and is bringing in two dredges to pump 1.2 million cubic yards of sand in both towns.

In Avalon, work was scheduled to start this weekend, but fog and high surf slowed the dredge’s arrival, Avalon spokesman Scott Wahl said.

The towns have had to close off beaches in some damaged areas — in southern Sea Isle City and northern Avalon — because erosion took too much sand, in some cases exposing rock underneath.

“They’ll remain blocked off until we get a beach,” Wahl said.

Elsewhere in Avalon and Sea Isle City, the beaches are significantly wider.

In Ocean City, a recently completed beach fill stocked beaches.

Meanwhile on Long Beach Island, Surf City crews are still rebuilding the roughly 10 beach access ways that were eroded over the winter and are dealing with other minor erosion issues on the northern end of town, City Clerk Mary Madonna said.“I don’t think that the winter was nice to any Jersey shore communities,” Madonna said. “But the beaches are our livelihood, so we know what we’re dealing with and what we have to do. ”

The inclement winter caused a delay in Harvey Cedars’ beach-replenishment project, which was initially slated for completion in early spring. Now the project will not finish until mid-June, Borough Clerk Daina Dale said, causing a few beaches on the southern end of town — near Bergen Avenue — to remain closed until that time.

Larry Silvi’s family has owned their beachfront home on Bergen Avenue in Harvey Cedars for decades. The house was designed so all the bedrooms in the house have views of the ocean, but Silvi said the first floor views are now gone because of the high dunes that were built as part of the beach replenishment project. And with the beach in front of the house closed until June, the Silvis and their guests must find other beaches to go to.

But they are finding ways to make it work.

“It’s our first weekend down here, so it’s just nice to get out on the beach at all,” said Silvi, 21, of Newtown, Pa. “We have to crawl through neighbors’ backyards to get to the beach now, but we’re making do. And I guess it will be all worth it in the long run, because we’ll have a nice big beach out there.”

Atlantic City’s beaches suffered what city Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Foley said was “tremendous erosion” — but, he said, the Department of Public Works was assisted by nature in getting the beaches back into shape.

“The spring tides actually brought in some sand,” Foley said of the beaches. “They’re not in as great a shape as we’d have hoped to have seen them in, but they’re in good shape, and the public works department has done a great job getting them in shape.”

Only the beach between New Jersey and States avenues, he said, was in poor enough condition to be closed. A major beach-replenishment project isn’t scheduled until fall 2011.

Margate’s Public Works Department has been working since March clearing debris off the beach, leveling it off and clearing weeds from bulkheads, Assistant Superintendent of Public Works Franz Adler said.

And former Margate resident Lou Nirenberg said the city’s always done a good job.

“I’d see them come down with the bulldozers every year,” said Nirenberg, now of Northfield. “This is their bread-and-butter. They make sure it’s taken care of.”

Adler also said that new stairs have been built at several beach entrances, which resident Amy Jensen said included Osborne and Pembroke avenues — “And it’s more teak wood, the ones that don’t rot as much.”

In Brigantine, fixing up the beaches is “an ongoing battle,” Public Works head Ernie Purdy said. “We rake it every day with a loader, and the lifeguard equipment is being put up as we speak.”

Barnegat Township residents Megan Royle and Brittany Karp spent Friday morning on Ship Bottom’s Seventh Street beach.

“We come here all the time, but we were just saying how the beaches look nicer this year for some reason,” said Royle, 20.

“It just looks and feels nicer, like the beaches are cleaner, and the water is clearer,” said Karp, 19.

Staff writers Steve Lemongello and Brian Ianieri contributed to this report.

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