Posted on December 10, 2023
UPPER TOWNSHIP — Pumping has begun to add sand to beaches in the south end of Ocean City, part of a $33.7 million federal contract, but about a mile and a half south, things are looking desperate in the north end of the Strathmere section of Upper Township.
Where there had been steep cliffs eroded into the side of the sand dunes in the seaside village by the end of the summer, there are now no dunes at all.
On a recent morning, waves slapped against a wall of rocks that was installed more than a decade ago as a last-ditch protection against the sea.
Those rocks were buried in sand added as part of a previous federal beach project. Today they are all that stands between the water and the roads and houses in the north end of Strathmere.
“It’s pretty bad,” said Ted Kingston, a longtime Strathmere resident.
He said the beaches are not in the worst shape he’s seen. That was around 2008, when erosion had damaged structures and threatened a steel bulkhead put in place not long before then.
The current beach erosion extends beyond the north end, with undercut dunes and eroding beaches extending multiple blocks.
“It’s a little less stressful with the beach fill two weeks away,” Kingston said.
Kingston described a time years ago when the beach along Corsons Inlet on the north side of the island was also whittled away, and there was no beach project even under consideration.
The Army Corps of Engineers announced in October it had awarded a $33.7 million contract with Great Lakes Dredge and Dock of Illinois to build beaches in Ocean City, Strathmere and Sea Isle City.
The huge dredge can be seen just off of Strathmere, but the project will build Ocean City beaches first. That city saw a beach project last winter, adding sand to the north end, and now work has started in the far south end of the city.
Work is expected to begin in Strathmere in mid-December, and continue into January, according to Gary DeMarzo, the Upper Township administrator. After that, the project will continue in Sea Isle City, which shares a barrier island with Strathmere.
Even if erosion is not at its worst in Strathmere history, the rapid retreat of sand dunes that already were eroded since the end of summer has put properties in a precarious position until sand can be pumped back.
“We got blasted,” DeMarzo said.
DeMarzo cited a recent report that said the area had been subjected to unusually strong wave action over the past several months, accelerating the erosion process. He said the township has been working closely with the Army Corps and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“We’re doing the best we can to protect property values and lives and our way of life, but we’re up against Mother Nature and Father Time,” DeMarzo said. He said he recently attended a status conference on the project, which will require more sand to be added than originally planned.
The Township Committee has approved the local contribution to the project cost, estimated at $1.3 million, but an expanded project will increase those costs across the board.
“The numbers have ticked north,” DeMarzo said. The cost will not delay the work, he added, saying the state and federal partners understand that beach project is a public safety issue.
Plans also call for the removal of timbers that were once part of a jetty system designed to stave off erosion. DeMarzo said they were put in place from the 1930s until the 1950s. They have been submerged for some time. The additional erosion has now exposed eight section of timbers, where there were four before.
DeMarzo described the submerged timbers as a safety hazard.
Plans are to remove those timbers, DeMarzo said.
The Army Corps approved the contract with Great Lakes Dredge and Dock of Illinois for the beach work. Strathmere is set to receive about a half-million cubic yards of sand, according to a project description posted by the Philadelphia District of the Army Corps.
The contract includes rebuilding dune crossovers, as well as fencing and other features, according to the Army Corps.
The dredge arrived in the area Thursday, and pumping operations began Friday morning, Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian told residents in his weekly message.
The work started between 56th Street and 57th streets, with plans to close 1,000 feet of beach at a time as the work moves north to 45th Street, with a plan to add 257,000 cubic yards of sand.
“This work allows a healthy dune system to grow and to protect property throughout Ocean City. Thank you for your patience and understanding as this important project continues,” Gillian said.