Post-Sandy, boaters should expect new hazards

Coast Guard Petty Officer Justin Lacy , at the Great Egg rescue station, fears it will be "very treacherous out there this summer." TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Coast Guard Petty Officer Justin Lacy , at the Great Egg rescue station, fears it will be "very treacherous out there this summer." TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 10, 2013

OCEAN CITY, N.J. - Coast Guard Petty Officer Justin Lacy looks out on the two 25-foot emergency response boats docked at the agency's Great Egg Station on the North Point Lagoon here and makes a bold prediction: It could be a dangerous summer.

The bright-orange vessels are kept at the station revved up and ready May through October, though the Coast Guard has had a relatively quiet spring. The waterways of the New Jersey Shore aren't yet teeming with boats and jet skis, Lacy said.

Some Shore marinas are reporting a lackluster season so far. Lacy theorizes that may be due to high fuel costs, cooler-than-usual weather, and the omnipresent effects of Hurricane Sandy.

But when the boaters finally get out there, it may be the effects of the storm that ultimately pose the most concern for them this summer, according to Lacy and others.

The Coast Guard, along with state environmental officials, local police departments, and the State Police, has mounted an effort to educate boaters about the additional risks posed by the storm's aftereffects.

Though more than eight million cubic yards of household and vegetative debris and sand have been removed from the state's tidal waters for the recreation season, thousands of objects - everything from telephone poles to kitchen sinks - may still be floating around. And hazardous shoals - perhaps an even bigger threat than errant household items - formed by storm-shifted sands could be lurking beneath the surface.

"It's going to be very treacherous out there this summer," said Lacy, who works as the station's navigation officer, keeping tabs on the positioning and mapping of safe passages through the area's channels and other maritime routes.

Lacy and others are warning boaters and jet skiers that areas where they may have previously found "good water" - spots with nice depth and free of sandbars - may have changed drastically since last summer.

"What used to be good water is no longer . . . boaters and jet skiers will have to be willing to change their habits and go where it is safe," Lacy said.

State officials agree.

"We have really been out there talking to lots of boat owners, marinas, yacht clubs, boat charter companies, to get everyone onboard that out on the water this summer, people need to be more cautious," said Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. "Sandy occurred . . . so they need to keep their eyes open."

By the end of June, private contractors will have been paid $91 million by the DEP to use side scan sonar and heavy equipment to locate and remove objects as big as houses, cars, and boats from the Raritan Bay down to the Delaware Bay, Ragonese said.

Special attention has been paid to hard-hit Barnegat Bay, where as many as 60 houses slid from the land into water during heavy flooding and storm surges when Sandy hit. The cleanup will likely continue through the summer, but by the end of this month, about 80 percent of the debris will have been collected and about 50 percent of the waterways around marinas will have been made navigable, Ragonese said.

Other crews have worked with the Army Corps of Engineers throughout the four Shore counties - Atlantic, Cape May, Ocean, and Monmouth - to reshape shorelines and channels where tons of sand may have been scoured away or accumulated during the storm. The DEP is now beginning a component program to remove more sediment from bays and other areas and expect to have about two million cubic yards of the material dredged by fall, Ragonese said.

The size of the task worried some whose livelihoods depend on the state's $1.4 billion recreational boating industry about whether the waterways would be ready for the season, said Fred Brueggemann, president of the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey. He said he was pleased that the state in April launched "Jersey Shore Open for Boating" campaign.

"Of course we're going to have a boating season - this is New Jersey," said Gov. Christie during one of his many sweeps along New Jersey's 127-mile coastline - an area heavily dependent on the state's $40 billion-a-year tourism industry.

"Sandy was devastating, but the state is cleaning up our waterways. We're going to have a great Shore season; you just need to be a little more careful than before Sandy and use a little more common sense out there."

Common sense, though, involves an additional layer of caution on the water this year, insists Jon Miller, a professor of coastal engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, who has studied the contour changes in beaches and channels along the coast since Sandy hit.

Miller said he was concerned about swimmers encountering rip currents on beaches where there may never have been a problem before and boaters finding perilous conditions on the water when existing navigation charts and GPS data don't reflect current conditions.

"There's going to be channels that have shifted around, new shoals that weren't there before, altered bottom contours, and changes in depths," Miller said. "All of that is going to be coupled with floating and submerged debris. None of it is going to appear on any navigation charts, so safety on the water this summer is something that must be emphasized."

Miller said officials should be especially concerned about jet skiers, a segment of the on-the-water population that rarely consults navigation charts before taking to the high seas.

Miller said such changes in water conditions used to be subtle, occurring slowly over years, sometimes even decades. But Sandy's ferocity sped up the process, eroding 10 million cubic yards of sand from New Jersey's beaches and depositing the material on the barrier islands and into surrounding waterways.

When the storm hit, successive wave action pulled sand off the beaches, moving some of it into the water where strong currents pushed the particles to underwater locations and shoals built up quickly, often in navigation channels.

That concerns Pete McLaughlin, 57, of Upper Township, who has docked his boat at Ocean City's All Seasons Marina since the 1980s.

"I've never been so worried about going out there in all my years of boating. . . . I haven't been out there once this year," said McLaughlin, working on his 30-foot Grady White. "But I'll get out there eventually."


Boating Tips

Maritime officials recommend that boaters:

Stay in the navigation channels or deeper water.

Proceed at lower speeds than usual and use

a lookout if piloting in uncharted waters.

Keep eyes open for debris that might be out there but isn't marked, and stay away from areas designated as such.

Keep clear of debris removal and dredging operations.

Report any sighting of unmarked debris or shoaling to 1-877-WARN-DEP.

Always wear a life jacket.

Access Local Notices to Mariners (LNM's) for NJ at www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=InmMain.

Receive updates on waterway debris removal at www.nj.gov/dep/special/hurricane-sandy/wwdebris.htm.


Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo

at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at philly.com/downashore. Follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo.

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