Posted on November 10, 2020
Summer’s over, the crowds are off the Jersey Shore beaches, and the routine replenishment of sand goes on throughout the state.
Hurricane season is posing occasional widespread threats and nor’easters loom as the particular danger to beach maintenance. Projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers primarily protect against these risks, while keeping the wide, sandy strands that are the primary basis for the region’s dominant tourism economy.
Federal, state and local governments accepted the need for beach nourishment, once science made clear it offered the best bang for its considerable bucks. With the climate changing and seas rising, though, this is only the calm before the stormy battle over much greater adaptations needed to maintain quality of life at the shore.
Work is underway on placing about 2 million cubic yards of sand on the beaches of Absecon Island. The Corps in August awarded a $23.8 million contract to the familiar Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. of Illinois for the work. It has begun on the section in Ventnor first, where it will pump about 426,000 cubic yards.
Nearby Ocean City, which got more sand this past summer, would like to bolster a vulnerable section of beach with geotubes — large fabric tubes filled with sand that have stood up to storms there in the past. The city is seeking bids to install them and permission to do so from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The Cape May area, which was part of the first sand project in the state in 1991 to counter severe erosion at the southern tip of New Jersey, is expected to get another round in 2021. That plan awaits federal budget approval.
There’s also an unfunded plan to address severe erosion in North Wildwood’s Hereford Inlet section, but no anticipated start of that work.
We’re glad to see nearly everyone accept responsibility for this steady maintenance. It took some years for society to come to terms with the science and economics involved.
If it weren’t for the pandemic, the next challenge already would be taking shape. The DEP is developing a climate resiliency plan with guidelines for how Jersey Shore communities should adapt to higher sea levels, stronger storms and more frequent flooding. Those are all certain as coastal lands subside and ocean levels rise.
The plan, originally due out last month, will still include beach replenishment, but also other strategies such as dune and wetlands restoration.
Bill Dixon, director of the DEP’s coastal engineering division, said “there’s going to have to be a lot of hard decisions that have to be made between the state, counties and towns on how to adapt to future climate change.”
In an overly indebted and overtaxed state, finding the resources for a large increase in expensive shore resiliency work will be far from easy. Tens of billions in coastal real estate and the big part of the state economy at stake will make the work as unavoidable as it is hard to fund.