Northeast
Survey work by a crew from Stockton University measures the contours of an eroded beach in North Wildwood. - Copyright AP Photo/Wayne Parry

NJ - US town fights to save beaches from coastal erosion

A New Jersey shore town has been allowed to carry out emergency beach repairs amid a bitter fight with the state over how to protect its coastline from erosion.

A bulldozer began moving sand along a stretch of badly eroded beach on Monday (22 May) in this Jersey Shore town.

North Wildwood has been at the centre of a bitter fight over how to protect its rapidly shrinking shoreline which has led to $33 million (€31 million) worth of litigation.

Before the summer tourism season kicks off this weekend, the town hopes to repair dunes in the most heavily eroded section of its beach and restore access points to a usable condition. The state Department of Environmental Protection granted permission for emergency repairs last week.

The beach is at the centre of a multimillion-dollar legal battle

The town and the state have been fighting for years over how best to protect North Wildwood's shoreline from coastal erosion. It is currently waiting to become the last part of New Jersey to receive a beach replenishment project that is still at least two years away.

North Wildwood has been fined $12 million (€11 million) by the state for previous unauthorised work on its beaches that it claims could actually make erosion worse.

Numerous violation notices issued by the state remain active, including one that involves work the city did several years ago along a section of beachfront that it said had become badly eroded.

AP Photo/Wayne Parry
Heavy equipment operators remove old dune fencing and other debris from a badly eroded section of beach in North Wildwood.AP Photo/Wayne Parry

The state said the work destroyed 3.24 hectares of vegetated dunes, including 2.7 hectares of critical wildlife habitat, and more than 4,400 square metres of freshwater wetlands.

North Wildwood, in turn, is suing the state for $21 million (€19.5 million), which it says is how much it has spent trucking sand to the shoreline over the past decade to try to keep up with erosion.

“We are happy to get this work completed soon,” said Mayor Patrick Rosenello.

“But this certainly doesn't fix the much larger issue, which is the lack of a beach nourishment project in North Wildwood.”

Why does the beach need to be 'nourished'?

North Wildwood and its surrounding coastal neighbours have not received the periodic beach replenishment projects that most of the rest of the Jersey Shore has been getting for decades. This is in part due to the difficulty of getting approval from property owners.

By adding sand from a neighbouring coastal area, sandbar or dredged from the sea, an eroded beach can be built back up to mitigate the effects of disasters. New Jersey is in the potential path of hurricanes, tropical storms and strong winds, making a healthy coastline essential not just for tourism or fishing, but to soften the blow of these events.

As a result of the delayed beach nourishment project, North Wildwood has experienced serious erosion over the last decade. The town says it needs to take immediate emergency steps including shoring up dunes and building another steel sea wall to complement one it already built.

North Wildwood previously built a 10-block-long vinyl and steel bulkhead without state approval, saying it needed to act urgently to protect lives and property. That is separate from the latest bulkhead the city wanted to build but has agreed to forego for now.

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