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Jersey Shore town spent $1M to fix its beach last spring but nearly all the sand washed away

The north end of the Avalon beach in Cape May County shows dune cliffs and exposed rocks on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017 after severe erosion. Erosion issues — and therefore the need for more sand replenishment every year — continue in 2024

Posted on April 8, 2024

A Jersey Shore town is once again dipping into its own pockets to keep the beaches sandy in time for the summer.

Avalon, which is flanked by Stone Harbor and Townsends Inlet, needs sand — although a $37.7 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project dropped loads of it there and in Stone Harbor just last spring.

Scott Wahl, business administrator for Avalon, told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday that of the more than 550,000 cubic yards of sand the town received last spring: “Very little of that sand is left.”

“The volume of sand for a hydraulic beach fill is driven by two factors: Sand availability, and money availability,” Wahl said.

Avalon, he noted, is no stranger to replenishing its beaches with more sand ahead of the busier months.

The town restored beaches with 700,000 cubic yards of sand in 2015 and north of 940,000 cubic yards two years later.

Last year’s Army Corps project was initially estimated to be $28 million but that cost later ballooned during contract negotiations, an Army Corps spokesman said. That work, part of a years-long plan to periodically replenish those slices of the Jersey Shore every two to four years, also benefited Stone Harbor.

Avalon paid $1.1 million for that larger shore project work last year, Wahl confirmed. The rest of the cost was covered by other sources including state and federal taxpayers.

In the end, Stone Harbor, the town next door, received more than 700,000 cubic yards of sand as well.

New Jersey has a storied past of dedicating state and federal funds to dropping sand onto beaches.

Critics say government officials lean too heavily on sand replenishment, or beach nourishment, as a protective strategy. Local leaders argue it safeguards the shore amid storms and keeps towns economically-viable during the active summer months. Some environmentalists and experts urge that sand replenishment will ultimately be too costly — and be needed too often — to keep relying upon. Climate change, which has been seen to fuel more intense storms and cause more severe coastal erosion, is also bound to exacerbate the need for replenishment projects, experts have highlighted.

And yet, the Jersey Shore continues to pump and drop sand.

Avalon commits about $600,000 from its municipal budget every year to spruce up patches of the shoreline there, Wahl said.

Multiple towns up and down the coast are currently doing, planning — or recently garnered sand from — replenishment work too.

Sea Isle City is getting its beaches summer-ready right now.

“Over the next two months, the dredge will place a million cubic yards of sand onto our shoreline,” Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio said at the end of March in a statement. “To put that amount of sand into perspective, a million cubic yards would fill 140 football fields four feet deep with sand.”

The mayor said the work was slated to be finished this spring.

Just Strathmere, Ocean City and Elsinboro Township recently received another 1,239,000 cubic yards.

Several resorts in Atlantic City — Hard Rock, Ocean Casino Resort, Resorts — are also weighing how to prepare barren beaches for the summer after coastal erosion impacted various areas where thousands flock to each year.

Workers conduct beach sand replenishment project, which is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Borough of Avalon in Avalon, N.J. on Wednesday, May 11, 2023. Another project is expected in the spring of 2024.Noah K. Murray | for NJ Advance

In the works in Avalon and elsewhere
Jersey Shore towns replenish beaches by:

“back passing” sand (bringing sand from bountiful sand-filled sections of a beach to one that’s starved)
dredging sand (or using submersible pumps to suck it out of a quarry or another area for transport)
or pumping sand from offshore to land

The final bill is usually split with 65% of the cost coming from federal tax money and the remaining 35% bring divided between the state and municipality.

Avalon officials said this week they expect to back pass between 50,000 to 75,000 cubic yards of sand to sections of the shore that faced heavy erosion from 9th to 14 Streets, and possibly further south.

The exact scope of work will depend on design and project bids, which have yet to go out, local officials said.

“With the small volume of the last fill, we would have needed a tranquil winter/early spring storm season to avoid a back passing project in 2024. That did not occur,” Wahl said.

In the past, Avalon has collected sand from between mid-30 to 40th Streets where it’s typically more ample.

“Sand is scraped from that area and taken back ‘home’ to its place of origin, the erosional zone,” Wahl explained. “The process works … The last few projects, all of the sand was harvested right near the water’s edge, leaving the dry beach alone.”

Vincent Grassi, a spokesman for New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said Thursday that so far this year no Jersey Shore towns have applied for emergency work that includes beach nourishment (or sand back passing) on any oceanfront beach.

Even if towns plans to spend from their own municipal budgets for that kind of work, they need permits from the NJDEP.

That doesn’t mean towns don’t need sand. Project costs and logistical challenges (like required rights of access from private properties), can deter municipalities from carrying out work. It can mean beach closures.

Last June, Toms River was only able to use $305,000 to replenish a badly eroded beach after surplus emergency funds were available in its budget after little snowfall. Erosion also doesn’t follow a pre-set schedule, as Brick experienced two summers ago.

Wahl said the replenishment work soon expected in Avalon will be part of a permit that was granted to the town in 2018 and allows such work through 2028.

Contracts for other replenishments are also in the works for Long Beach Island (expected to be awarded in April), Manasquan to Barnegat Inlet (in May) and Absecon Island (in June), federal officials shared.

North Wildwood, not too far from Avalon, is not so lucky.

In the past three months, the situation in the nearby town has grown considerably more alarming. A lengthy real estate easement process, bureaucracy — and politics, according to the local mayor — have delayed similar sand replenishment protections for that part of the shore for at least a decade.

North Wildwood does not expect to start to see its shore bolstered until the summer of 2025 at the earliest.

Previously, the mayor there, Patrick Rosenello, has said Avalon’s beach replenishment work can be seen and heard from his very own Jersey Shore home.


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