Posted on September 15, 2016
By Nanette LoBiondo Galloway, ShoreNewsToday
City officials have accepted the fact that dunes will be built on the beach, but are still at odds over the state’s plans for storm water drainage and handicapped access points.
City Administrator Richard Deaney presented the latest entry into his ongoing dunes report at the Board of Commissioners Sept. 1 work meeting. In it, he stated that city officials met with representatives of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Philadelphia Aug. 23 to discuss city engineer Ed Walberg’s conceptual plan the city believes would alleviate drainage issues that could develop between the dunes and bulkhead.
Walberg’s gravity flow storm water system uses tried-and-true technology, which includes installing underground pipe parallel with the bulkheads from one end of the city to the other that would connect to five outfall pipes to allow storm water to flow into the ocean. Walberg estimated the cost of the system to be around $9 million, and it would have to be done before the dunes are built, he said.
“It’s simple technology that has been around for years,” Walberg said.
“Ventnor and Margate are the only two towns that do not currently have a drainage system in place to collect water and drain it through outfall pipes,” U.S. Army Corps Project Manager Keith Watson said at a press conference held on the Ventnor boardwalk Friday, Sept. 2 to announce that the state was going out to bid on the project.
Although Deaney said state officials agreed to consider Walberg’s plan, Watson said the Army Corps is confident that storm water that collects behind the dune would percolate into the sand within 24 hours.
He said Margate currently dumps rainwater onto the beach, where it percolates into the sand. In some instances, the city digs trenches to move the water into ponds until it percolates.
“The same process can be done behind the dune without having to trench out,” Watson said.
The city’s current method to control flooding includes using heavy machinery to move the sand away from the scuppers to allow water to flow from the street onto the beach, or to pile sand in front of the scuppers to prevent ocean water from flooding streets.
“Instead of having to close the scuppers, the dunes will stop the storm surge and they can leave the scuppers open. There will be a large area for the storm water to come out of the scuppers and spread out in the sand,” he said. “There will be more surface area after the dune is built,” he said. Depending on the location, the percolation areas will be between 25 and 150 feet wide.
However, the city will have to continue maintenance as it is done now, or there could be problems, Watson said.
“We will level the back of the beach and bring it down so the water can flow out from the scupper. When you pour water on sand it will perc down. As long as they keep doing maintenance like they are doing now, the water will perc through.”
City workers will have to scrape the surface with a beach rake to ensure the sand is loose enough to drain the water, he said.
“The Army Corps insists their plan will work, but they agreed to review the city plan,” Deaney said in his report. “The DEP assistant commissioner took a wait and see position, but repeatedly assured Margate officials that if there is a problem the DEP will address it.”
Deaney said the city would make a “photo record” of future rainfalls and document how the city manages the accumulation of water.
“We are on sound ground pointing this out,” Deaney said. “In court, the judge said he understands there may be drainage issues raised by the city, and he required the DEP and Army Corps to work with the city.”
Deaney said Margate made it clear that it does not believe the Army Corps plan will adequately address drainage issues.
“In fact, we believe they will be made worse because accumulated ponding for even short periods may result in serious safety and health issues,” Deaney said.
Margate Solicitor John Scott Abbott said if the Army Corps plan doesn’t work, the city could find itself back before the judge.
“They want to wait and see how it goes for the first year,” Abbott said. “If the day comes where we still have problems, we’ll have to go to court.”
Abbott said the city currently has 22 access points it designates as handicapped accessible, but the dunes project will reduce that number to four or five.
“Four is not enough; we want more,” he said.
However, Walberg said many of the current access points, which are actually openings in the bulkheads at street ends, require the handicapped to traverse soft sand. Once the dunes are built, the grade of the dune will be steeper than what the federal government designates as handicapped accessible.
However, the Army Corps-designed access points will be much wider and have a solid gravel foundation, which will allow easy access for wheelchairs, Walberg said.
“At the top of each crossover will be a 10-foot flat area with no dune grass plantings. It will be a place where people can stop and rest and it will be leveled so we don’t lose our visual (of the ocean) as you look down the street,” Walberg said.
In his report, Deaney said city officials are pleased with the DEP’s assurance that the Beach Patrol Headquarters building on Decatur Avenue would be relocated to another area at no cost to the city.
The state also assured the city it would not have to agree to accept financial responsibility for maintaining the dunes, Deaney said.
Unlike regular beach fill projects, the dunes are being build using 100 percent federal funds derived from the Sandy Relief Act after Hurricane Sandy.
“When we put this together, we did something that may never happen again, and that is 100 percent federal cost share,” U.S. Congressman Frank LoBiondo said at the press conference. “That’s enormous for a project like this.”
Deaney said the state assured the city that any future beachfill projects would be strictly voluntary and funded through a cost-sharing agreement with the state.
According to DEP spokesman Larry Hajna, the federal government would cover 65 percent of the cost of renourshments with the state picking up 35 percent. The city would partner with the state and be required to pay 25 percent of the state’s share.
Commissioner Maury Blumberg said the city might consider a cost-sharing arrangement to install additional handicapped access points.