Eroded dunes line some of the beach in North Wildwood, NJ on Monday, May 8, 2023. Jim Lowney | For NJ Advance Media

NJ - Jersey Shore town fighting state over beach erosion gets OK for quick fix before summer

Third time’s the charm for North Wildwood.The Jersey Shore town has received approval from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to address public safety issues linked to severe coastal erosion that has eaten up about ten blocks worth of beach, Mayor Patrick Rosenello told NJ Advance Media on Thursday.

Walkways to nowhere and sand dunes with steep cliffs dot the shoreline. Orange signs at eight entry points advise visitors to enter the beach elsewhere but the mayor says it’s been easy for people to bypass them.

“We were facing a very serious public safety issue and with Memorial Day weekend that would have been a disaster,” Rosenello said over the phone, noting that the city’s population of 5,000 people swells to 40,000 during the summer.

Last October, the remnants of Hurricane Ian erased 80 feet of sand dunes on the beach in North Wildwood. As of mid-May, half a mile’s worth of sand on the 2 1/4 mile beach has been wiped away.

Starting Monday, $100,000 from the city’s budget will go toward restoring and reinforcing various public access points at North Wildwood beach and grade sand on the beach to alleviate dunes with steep drop-offs where people may be at risk, Rosenello said.

Specifically, the city will reshape the dune mid-block between 12th and 16th Avenues and make the beach accessible between 13th and 15th Avenues. The work will also help build up defenses against coastal storms on the badly-eroded shore.

Wednesday’s authorization was the third request for such work. The first two — submitted in October 2022 and February 2023 — also included the building of a 1,300-foot steel bulkhead and were denied.

But North Wildwood’s beach dilemmas are not new.

As far back as 2020, the city has built stretches of a bulkhead (about 2,000 feet) on the beach in the same area without NJDEP authorization. Rosenello said in the past decade, North Wildwood has dedicated about $20 million of taxpayer money for sand replenishment projects and other coastal protection efforts in the face of stronger storms resulting from climate change.

In the NJDEP’s approval letter Wednesday, the Division of Land Resource Protection Determination noted that it continued to have “concern” over alternatives proposed by the city including back passing and trucking in sand from upland areas.

Back passing sand includes using hydraulic equipment to pump it from one beach to another. North Wildwood has back passed about 1.6 million cubic yards of sand from Wildwood since 2016, according to Stockton University’s Coastal Research Center.

“It is still the (DEP’s) position, as relayed to the city in the October 2022 and February 2023 emergency authorization denials for the proposed installation of a steel bulkhead,” Colleen Keller, Assistant Director Division of Land Resource Protection, wrote in part of Wednesday’s letter, “that sand can be reintroduced into the system by trucking material in from a mainland quarry (or a beach source).”

State officials added in the letter that the area of the unauthorized bulkhead between 12th and 13th Avenues is seeing more erosion than other areas of the beach likely because the structure acts as an impediment for incoming waves.

But Rosenello said city engineers did not agree with the assessment and argued the bulkhead has defended the boardwalk during severe wave action.

The emergency authorization does nothing in terms of beach replenishment and the approximate 1 million cubic yards of sand the city needs to build back up its shore. That work, part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Five Mile Island beach and dune construction project, is not expected to start until 18 to 24 months from now, state officials said.

“This project will back-pass (transport) excess sand from the beaches of Wildwood City and Wildwood Crest to create and enhance dunes and bolster beach berms in North Wildwood, Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and Lower Township,” Larry Hajna, a NJDEP spokesperson said in a statement.

While all four towns agreed to the project in March, additional state and federal permits are required.

North Wildwood is also still in the midst of a $21 million legal battle with the state after it took matters into its own hands by building the steel bulkhead in the first place.

Read more.