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How erosion is affecting your favorite shore town’s beaches

Work continues on an eroded section of beach in North Wildwood Tuesday, May 23, 2023. The Shore town received emergency permission from state officials to repair damaged dunes before the Memorial Day weekend, the start of the summer tourism season. The town and the state of New Jersey have been fighting for years over how best to protect their shoreline while it awaits a federal and state beach replenishment project. New Jersey has fined North Wildwood $12 million for past unauthorized work on its beaches that the state claims could actually worsen erosion. North Wildwood, in turn, is suing the state for $21 million for the costs of trucking sand to the shoreline over the past decade to try to keep up with erosion.

Posted on April 1, 2024

Rowdy teenagers after dark and rising rental prices may jeopardize the Jersey Shore’s image, but there’s a more dangerous threat looming that could leave lasting impacts on shore towns for decades to come.

Erosion — the natural process of wind and waves whipping against the shore line, sweeping away the sand with each pummel — is an ongoing challenge for local officials as climate change causes sea levels to rise and more severe storms accelerate the process.

Without protection, beaches erode and flood damage can ravage a shore town, which has started to play out in towns like North Wildwood where as recently as this Monday storm water flooded past dunes and creeped closer to residential property.

It doesn’t help that the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly to jump into action, said North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello, whose town hasn’t received a beach “renourishment” since after Hurricane Sandy a decade ago. When a beach is renourished, sand from off shore is dredged up and moved to the shore to beef up coastlines against erosion.

“The Jersey Shore as we know it wouldn’t exist without renourishment projects,” Rosenello said, who has been embroiled in a legal battle with the state over these projects since last year. “If in Philadelphia, protective barriers and bulkheads along the Delaware collapsed and the city decided not to rebuild them, Front Street pretty soon is going to be underwater.”

In New Jersey, there are federal and state shore protection programs to ensure the 130 miles of shoreline gets renourished. But, landing a big federal-state project for a given shore town requires a lot of red tape, including funding, approvals, and — the most expensive part of the project — the mobilization of bulldozers, dredging equipment, and barges, according to Stewart Farrell, founder and former director of the Coastal Research Center at Stockton University.

Farrell and other researchers say it’s easier to get support from federal and state governments when there are dramatic events like hurricanes, but the more chronic and ongoing erosion that happens each year don’t draw the same kind of attention. “A Northeaster storm can do as much damage as a hurricane,” Farrell said.

Jon K. Miller, the coastal processes specialist for the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium published research on “nuisance erosion” last fall, alongside colleagues. It’s a form of erosion that is analogous to “death by a thousand paper cuts,” he said.

On their way to a High school competition, surfers walk below the massive erosion of the dunes near 7th Street & the Boardwalk (where Playland in rear is located) on the Ocean City beach May 13, 2008, the day after Monday’s Nor’easter. The Red Bull Riders Cup, a national high school surfing tournament, runs May 13-15 at the 3rd Street Beach. The National Championships are June 14 & 15 at San Onofre State Beach in San Clemente, CA. Monday’s Nor’easter resulted in considerable beach erosion in Cape May and Atlantic Counties.

“This past winter is a good example where we didn’t necessarily have a Hurricane Sandy, but there’s a number of locations along the East Coast, North Wildwood, and Atlantic City that had some pretty dramatic impacts that are more from the buildup of erosion over the past several winters than one singular severe storm.”

As the perpetual dance of filling in beaches only to have them eroded away will continue for as long humans develop along the shoreline, researchers say New Jersey will need to properly fund and coordinate its renourishment projects.

Major erosion has taken away much of Ocean City’s beaches. This is the north end of Ocean City between 6th and 7th St. on May 21, 2022.

What does this mean for the average beachgoer and shoobie? No big changes for most this summer.

“Anybody going to places like Cape May, Wildwood, Sea Isle City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, Margate, and Longport — no worries, no big deal. They won’t even notice anything different from last year,” Farrell said. “But North Wildwood is going to look a little strange because the water is all the way up against the bulkhead and dunes.”


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