Weighing a massive plan to redo Wildwood's beaches

A volleyball match on the beach in Wildwood last May. Officials fear the new project will limit beach space.
A volleyball match on the beach in Wildwood last May. Officials fear the new project will limit beach space. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 27, 2014

WILDWOOD, N.J. The thought is preposterous to Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano: The state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers want to build a $21.8 million two-story-tall sand dune along a beach so wide that in some spots trams are used to get beachgoers from the boardwalk to the water's edge.

"The idea is ludicrous," Troiano said of the proposal to build a 16-foot-tall dune and berm along a five-mile beachfront from Hereford Inlet in North Wildwood to Cape May Inlet in Wildwood Crest.

"I'm all for helping our neighbors to our north and south, but not at the expense of Wildwood," Troiano said.

Since the plan calls for a 700-foot-wide swath to be used to construct the dune, Troiano said the plan could ultimately decrease the width of Wildwood's beaches to the point where certain uses of the beachfront - like an annual international volleyball championship and large music festivals - would be curtailed. He said that could mean lost revenue for a town already struggling to fund the cost of maintaining its famous beachfront - which is one of only a few in New Jersey that do not charge admission.

Although the project had been under consideration by the Army Corps prior to Hurricane Sandy, it is now part of a $1 billion Christie administration plan to build a comprehensive dune system from Sea Bright to Cape May to protect towns along the coastline from future storm flooding and other damage.

Beach replenishment work under the widespread plan began earlier this month in Monmouth County on a stretch between Asbury Park and Avon where the $18.3 million in costs are paid for out of Sandy funds approved by Congress. Beach towns in Monmouth and Ocean Counties were among the hardest hit by the Oct. 29, 2012, storm.

Based on where Sandy made landfall in Brigantine, Atlantic County, the damage was significantly less in the southern Shore counties of Atlantic and Cape May, although places like Ventnor, Ocean City, and Sea Isle City experienced considerable flooding. In the "Wildwoods" - collectively, the towns of Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, and North Wildwood - where almost no dunes exist, storm experts said the ocean just "rolled into town" as Sandy roiled off the coast, the report said.

While the 1,500- to 2,000-foot width of Wildwood's beaches helped minimize flooding in that resort, both North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest experienced more widespread damage, losing a considerable amount of sand from some of the beaches, municipal officials said.

And while Wildwood's beaches grow about 20 feet in width each year, beaches in the two other towns on the island known as Five Mile Beach routinely erode, especially around the two inlets, according to a 341-page report from a study of the region that was begun nearly a decade before Sandy hit.

Officials from North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest said they were still examining the Army Corps plan and have not decided whether they plan to back it.

The study, conducted by the Army Corps over the last decade, suggests that as the beaches are rebuilt, a practice known as "back passing" should be employed. The practice would take sand that has built up from one part of the island - namely Wildwood - and move it to other areas where it may be needed.

Back passing was actually used in 2012 when some 96,000 cubic yards of sand was trucked from an expansive beach area in Wildwood Crest to denuded beaches in North Wildwood, the report says.

The latest dune plan for the Wildwoods also calls for beach replenishment every four years during a 50-year period, at a projected cost of about $80 million.

"I think the overall idea in the Wildwoods and elsewhere along the coast is to bring back the original protective state of all the beaches prior to Sandy," said Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Such projects - including those underway in Monmouth County and those that still remain on the drawing board like Wildwood's - are a "mix and match" of pre-Sandy and post-Sandy planning and funding. The work up and down the coastline to install all the dunes and replenished beaches would likely stretch past 2015, Ragonese said.

Ragonese said the DEP would meet with officials from Wildwood, North Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest to discuss concerns about the plan.

"We would expect that there would be some push and pull on a plan this large and that's why we plan to have ongoing dialogue about it," said Ragonese. "But we are still in the very early planning stages and there is still plenty of time for officials in these towns to discuss their concerns and issues with it."

Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the "Downashore" blog at inquirer.com/downashore. Follow@JacquelineUrgo.

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