Posted on December 4, 2023
A $3.2 million study will help re-assess how federal engineers protect 21 miles worth of beaches at the Jersey Shore, federal officials said this week.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering reinforced dunes, berm modifications, submerged artificial reefs, groins, flood walls, sand back passing and other measures for the project area.
The same slice of coast — which stretches from Sea Bright to Manasquan — received an estimated 8 million cubic yards of sand in an emergency replenishment following Hurricane Sandy.
It’s unclear why the study — which considers some alternatives to a heavy reliance on sand replenishment which has faced criticism — is happening now, but a federal spokesperson said the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection initiated the reassessment.
“This study aims to reassess the original project from the late 1980s, focusing on addressing erosion issues and possibly incorporating new features like dunes, especially considering the damages from Hurricane Sandy,” Michael Embrich, a spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers’ New York District, said Friday.
Despite some disapproval that it’s become too costly and will not be sustainable over time, federal officials say New Jersey beaches benefit from beach nourishment (usually done every two years) and undergo periodic studies to better understand how the work can be more effective.
Dropping millions of cubic yards of sand as part of the nourishment, or sand replenishment, is on pace to surpass $3 billion in New Jersey. It’s covered by state and federal taxpayers and takes place for flood protection as shore towns and nearby power infrastructure face higher risks due to sea level rise and worsening erosion due to climate change, according to the NJDEP.
Replenishment is also done to ensure beaches remain bountiful for the busy summer when they are an economic driver for Jersey Shore towns, several local mayors have highlighted.
“New Jersey’s coastal infrastructure is its first line of defense in protecting people, property, ecosystems, and the state’s $20 billion annual tourism economy from the impacts of devastating storms,” said Grace Hanlon, executive director of the Jersey Shore Partnership, a not-for-profit organization which supports the replenishment and notes aquatic habitats and bird species benefit from it as well.
The latest analysis will be fully funded by the federal 2022 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act. A public discussion for the study — efforts for which began in October 2022 — was held Nov. 20.
Army Corps officials are still evaluating next steps and gathering more feedback, a spokesman for the agency said.
Ross Kushner, a Sea Bright resident and coordinator of a grassroots group called the New Jersey Coastal Alliance, said federal project managers indicated during a virtual session that severe beach erosion found in two areas was part of the impetus for re-considering how to protect that section of coast.
In a summary on the study, the Army Corps said two areas in Monmouth Beach and Elberon are considered “erosion hotspots.”
“These erosion hotspots require more frequent nourishment than anticipated,” a statement from the agency said. “This redirects re-nourishment funds and sand to these locations, as opposed to other sections of the existing project that could also benefit from sand placement. The study will investigate improvements to these areas to reduce the need for re-nourishment and the risk of erosion.”
As for the strategies being contemplated by federal engineers like dunes, seawalls and groins, Jon Miller — research associate professor at Stevens Institute of Technology — said Friday nearly all have been tried in the Garden State in one form or another (although often in isolation).
“The current study is a bit different in that it is looking at techniques that can enhance the existing project,” said Miller, who is also a board member of the Jersey Shore Partnership.
Kushner said Friday he was pleasantly surprised to hear of the re-assessment. However, he said options as part of new work — like building dunes, breakwaters, groins and even elevating or flood-proofing nearby properties — were simply laid out by the Army Corps in November.
“They presented those measures on equal footing and said they’re reviewing them,” said Kushner, adding that he’d hope to hear how those options were being narrowed down.
The Jersey Shore Partnership said it was sensible for the Army Corps to evaluate how to better protect the coast through the $3.2 million study.
But in a letter to the Army Corps on the project, Kushner said he was wary beach replenishment could impact the environment, nearby habitats and species — such as by possibly reducing the diet of piping plover. That, despite the federal agency saying it considers these factors during its feasibility analysis.
“It is our opinion that the (Army Corps) creates replenished beaches in the manner they do solely for economic reasons, as the cheapest, easiest alternative and with utter disregard for the public, the environment, or New Jersey’s enforceable policies,” Kushner wrote. “Their only goal is to prevent storm damage to the real estate directly facing the ocean in the least costly fashion.”
Miller, director of Stevens’ Coastal Protection Technical Assistance Service, said beach nourishment activities have been shown to impact infauna, invertebrates that live within the matrix of aquatic sediments.
“The scientific literature varies with reports of population recovery ranging from as short as several months or as long as several years, similar to the rates of recovery reported after extreme storm events,” said Miller. “What is clear is that beach nourishment creates and sustains habitats for a number of species such as the red knot, piping plover, and sea beach amaranth.”
The Army Corps said it plans more outreach to gather additional comments surrounding its coastal protection between Sea Bright and Manasquan.
A protection project, the agency said in a recent statement, that has so far “performed well during extreme storm conditions and has been successful in reducing the magnitude of storm damages” but could be modified “to better reduce coastal flood risk.”
A timeline for the study was not immediately provided.