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North Wildwood finally gets emergency beach replenishment after nearly two-year conflict

Waves from a storm surge crash along the dunes of 14th Avenue Beach in North Wildwood, N.J. In recent years, North Wildwood has spent millions of dollars to truck in sand from Wildwood almost daily during the summer to combat erosion.

Posted on April 29, 2024

The Shore town has settled its differences with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The project is slated to be done before July 4.

North Wildwood said Thursday that it has reached an agreement with New Jersey for a new emergency beach replenishment project that could begin within weeks to address severe erosion.

The deal comes just two weeks after North Wildwood officials said they were considering banning tents, cabanas, and oversize umbrellas on the resort community’s shrinking beaches. That was just the latest salvo since the summer and fall of 2022 when local officials began complaining that the DEP and Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration were blocking the barrier island town’s attempt to address its battered beach.

State officials, however, said they had been working for years on a long-term, multi-community project with the U.S. Army Corps to better address erosion, and that local temporary solutions would only worsen erosion.

The new project, announced Thursday evening in a joint statement with Murphy’s office, would be a temporary fix, North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said Friday. The Republican mayor lauded the Democratic Murphy administration, and called the emergency project a bipartisan effort. He also credited State Sen. Michael Testa Jr., a Republican, with working with state officials.

“I am personally extremely grateful to the governor and his staff,” Rosenello said. “They completely put differences aside and said, ‘Hey, there’s an important Jersey Shore town here that needs help. We need to come up with a solution to fix it.’”

Rosenello said he does not yet know how much the project will cost, nor the scope. But he said the beaches are in dire need of help after being battered by a series of storms that have eroded some dunes and beaches into cliff faces over the past few years. North Wildwood will contribute money to the project.

“We finally got to a point where we’re doing something constructive, which is nice,” Rosenello said.

Representatives for the DEP could not be reached immediately Friday for comment.

How will replenishment work?

Rosenello said that the project will involve placing a dredge vessel off the coast to pump sand from the ocean floor to the beaches. He said several blocks of beach would be closed at a time. But, he believes the project will move quickly so that closures won’t last long. The project could run to the end of June, or maybe into the beginning of July. Rosenello said the goal is to be done by July 4.

Engineers are still working on the details. But the sand would be pulled from an area already approved for replenishment by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We should have a lot more information in the next couple of weeks,” Rosenello said.

The project will be designed and managed by the state Department of Transportation’s Office of Maritime Resources, which is currently handling a complex $10 million dredge of nearby back bays that began in November and should be soon finished. The project includes dredging 4.5 miles of bays and creeks, and removing 125,000 cubic yards of sediment.

In recent years, North Wildwood has spent millions of dollars to truck in sand from Wildwood almost daily during the summer. Rosenello said the new arrangement with the state is much more efficient, and that wet, heavy sand is much more able to hold up to storms than the dry sand North Wildwood had been trucking in.

What about the federal project?

Over the last two years, local officials publicly hammered the DEP for not allowing North Wildwood to proceed with its own erosion-control plans, which the state said would actually worsen erosion. The back-and-forth resulted in legal action and warnings from the state.

Rosenello said the emergency erosion project does not, however, settle a lawsuit North Wildwood filed in 2023 against the DEP.

Much of the conflict arose because a federal project has taken years to get off the ground. Rosenello hopes the emergency project approved this week will be able to fend off erosion until the larger project is complete.

That project originated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The Army Corps and DEP began crafting an anti-erosion project for the barrier island known as Five Mile Beach, which contains North Wildwood, Wildwood, West Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, and Diamond Beach (which is part of Lower Township). North Wildwood, once the largest beach in the state, has suffered more significant erosion than other towns.

It took years for the DEP to get all the communities to sign off on the project. The DEP is still acquiring needed approvals to access private properties, but the project is moving forward. The DEP has committed $10 million to the project, which is under design and includes an engineered dune system and replenished beaches. Work is anticipated by spring 2025.


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