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Jersey Shore mayor sort of regrets shelling out $39M to save town’s beach

North Wildwood's beach is expected to get much-needed shore protections for the summer of 2024 after years of severe coastal erosion

Posted on May 20, 2024

Does Mayor Patrick Rosenello regret dedicating nearly $40 million in local taxpayer money since 2011 to protect North Wildwood’s coast amid years of severe erosion?

Not exactly.

The Jersey Shore mayor’s opinion on replenishment and the need for more beach work during the town’s decades-long battle against Mother Nature has been well-documented.

But there is one thing he’s thought twice about — especially now that the state recently has agreed to foot most of the bill for a fix much larger than the 1.7-square mile town could have handled on its own. And that fix is still just a temporary one until the long-delayed federal replenishment project by the U.S. Army Corps begins.

“The regret that I have with regard to the money we spent on sand is that had we known that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was going to be 10 years late on this (Army Corps) project we would have worked on a hydraulic dredge project much sooner,” Rosenello told NJ Advance Media on Thursday.

For more than a decade, North Wildwood has been left to largely fend for itself, installing portions of a metal seawall in problem areas, and sending massive trucks to neighboring Wildwood to scoop up sand from its plentiful beaches and bring it back to its own shores, a process known as back-passing.

But most of that keeps washing away.

“The dry sand back passing is much less efficient and much more susceptible to erosion than the dredged replenishment (from borrow zones in the ocean) that has been the norm in New Jersey for 50 years,” Rosenello said.

New Jersey is prolific at pouring seemingly endless grains of sand on its beaches each year, especially as the summer comes and towns need big beaches to draw big crowds. Earlier this year, the state surpassed $3 billion spent on dumping 245 million cubic yards of sand since 1936. That remains at the top of the heap nationwide per foot of shoreline, according to Western Carolina University experts.

North Wildwood has spent more than $32 million on sand replenishment work since 2011, according to records obtained via an Open Public Records Act request. Figures on how much the state of New Jersey has dedicated to similar beach work in the city were not immediately available.

Below is the year-by-year breakdown of beach replenishment expenses in North Wildwood from 2011-2023 (the city says expenses include steel bulkhead and other beach repair work).

Recently, North Wildwood also announced it would put up $7 million for the new emergency project with the state.

That work has ballooned to $17 million in state and local costs and could pour between 333,000 and 1,030,000 cubic yards of sand. It’s necessary because a federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project is still another summer away from advancing after a roughly ten-year delay.

NJDEP officials have reiterated that the project, which spans a wide area including four towns, has steadily made progress over the years as more than 100 real estate easements are acquired and design work is completed with a bevy of stakeholders.

North Wildwood’s new emergency nourishment is still in the works but on course to be finished this summer, local and state officials said.

Periodic beach projects are covered by state and federal taxpayers but when towns are not getting a project in time they could opt to take matters into their own hands.

Not all towns can afford it though and — lacking municipal budget funds for costly and complex shoreline repairs — may close parts of beaches, ban tents on the sand, as well as bear the economic loss or risk to coastal properties namely as climate change brings on more storms and aggravates erosion.

Businesses and local officials in Atlantic City, Brick, Brigantine and Toms River have recently had to do some of the math to determine if an independent project was financially possible or make the plea to federal project managers to expedite work.

Rosenello said this week the amount of money dedicated by North Wildwood for sand replenishment since 2011 hasn’t all washed away — which erosion will inevitably do and Army Corps engineers say projects are designed for.

“A significant portion of what we have spent was in the form of steel bulkhead (installations),” Rosenello said. Earlier this year, the city was denied from extending that bulkhead between the mid-block of 12th and 13th Avenues up to 15th Avenue, connecting to the currently-built structure at that location.

Still, the mayor said the existing bulkhead there and north near 3rd Avenue has “now been incorporated into the Army Corps project. Meaning that they are going to provide shore protection to North Wildwood for many decades to come. That is certainly a worthwhile investment.”

Experts at Stockton University’s Coastal Research Center, who study the state’s shoreline, have previously noted whether that investment will continue to be feasible or sensible is yet to be seen.


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