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Jersey Shore beach losing its battle with Mother Nature as more of its dunes wash away

A dune breach near 13th Avenue in North Wildwood, NJ, opened up in January 2024. Water was soon seen pouring into the wetlands near 14-15th Avenues in March. Meanwhile, the city is awaiting a massive replenishment project that's not set to benefit beach there until 2025.

Posted on April 1, 2024

As New Jersey environmental regulators and North Wildwood officials continue to be locked in a battle for how best to remedy coastal erosion issues in the city, the problems appear to be growing even more dire.

In January, waves broke through sand dunes at 13th Avenue.

A vehicle path near 16th Avenue was recently closed.

And on Tuesday, residents reported high tides pushing water over the remaining dunes near 14th and 15th Avenues.

“I would say the dune, specifically between 13th and 15th, is gone now,” Nic Long, North Wildwood administrator, said Thursday on the phone. Long said it appeared the dune breach was growing, instead of an entirely new hole opening up on the shore.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the Jersey Shore town have clashed since 2020 over the future of the city’s shore.

So far, 10 blocks worth of a 36-block-long beach have eroded away. A federal project set to benefit North Wildwood is not expected to offer protection until 2025, as a lengthy real estate easement process plods along. Some homeowners have contemplated moving.

“We notified the state before … we wanted to build a bulkhead between 12th and 15th avenues. The NJDEP ultimately denied that saying that no emergency condition (existed). We did not agree. That was when the dune breached and we were very vulnerable,” Long said. “Now that the dune breached, there’s nothing protecting us.”

Experts warn climate change can fuel stronger storms and fierce wave action — making the issue of erosion even more problematic.

Worse for North Wildwood — which was recently denied twice from doing an emergency bulkhead installation — local officials say they can no longer replace the sand from nearby Wildwood due to thinned out sections of shore where trucks would need to travel.

State officials have previously noted that erosion has worsened in some areas where physical structures, like bulkheads were installed. North Wildwood engineers have disagreed.

Long doubled down Thursday, noting that the message to concerned residents is: “We hear you … and we hope the DEP comes around to the actual conditions on the ground.”

NJDEP officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Western Carolina University experts earlier this month estimated that about $40 million worth of sand replenishment work was recently completed at the Jersey Shore. Not a grain of it was dropped in North Wildwood.

“Our concerns for this summer in North Wildwood are pretty serious,” Long said. “We have the exposure between 12th and 15th, that’s our main concern. Our next concern is what public access is going to look like to the beach — for the entire beach north of 17th Avenue.”

In addition to preparing for an influx of visitors to the Wildwoods this summer, Long noted that a $33 million legal battle between the state and North Wildwood remains ongoing. Right now, he said no emergency beach fixtures are planned and the city is waiting to hear about the next steps from the state.

An outfall pipe is pictured near 13th Avenue (close to a dune breach reported in January 2024) in North Wildwood, NJ.Steven Rodas | NJ Advance Media for

Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philadelphia District, previously said federal planners recognize the issues in North Wildwood.

“We know stakeholders want this project constructed as soon as possible and we’re doing everything we can to move it forward,” Rochette said, “but it is important to note that acquiring real estate easements is a legal requirement for a project to be constructed.”

As far as that easement process, after a February meeting a letter was sent to mayors in towns set to benefit from the expansive Army Corps Project — North Wildwood, Wildwood, Lower Township and Wildwood Crest. A copy of the letter, provided by the NJDEP, outlines that a contract award for the project is expected in June 2025.

North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello, a Republican, is worried about that timeline.

The mayor has also previously called out the NJDEP and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy for what he said was inaction on the state’s part to protect his shore. Signs were posted on the beach in North Wildwood imploring visitors to voice their concerns with state officials.

During a March 13 appearance on WNYC’s “Ask Governor Murphy,” the governor was asked by a caller if it was finally time to “bury the hatchet.”

“So there’s no real hatchet to bury,” Murphy said in response.

Murphy touted $10 million in grants recently provided for North Wildwood’s boardwalk, as part of funding provided across the shore. And while the governor said he was “sick of the stand-off,” he recognized the significant erosion issue in the city.

“The erosion problem is real … there’s no question about that. But the problem is the approach that the mayor has wanted to pursue versus what our Department of Environmental Protection has wanted to pursue are two different approaches,” Murphy said. “…We want to get this fixed, I promise you.”


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