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Why Ocean County plans to spend $7.55 million on beach replenishment

Posted on February 13, 2023

Ocean County has agreed to pay the entire local cost of the latest federal beach replenishment project, providing relief for barrier island towns that were facing hefty bills for the work.

“It’s great that they are going to pay the whole thing,” said Bay Head Mayor Bill Curtis, who added that mayors learned of the county’s decision at a Thursday morning meeting. “The county, they have just done a marvelous job. I can’t thank them enough.”

Bay Head’s local share of the beach work is expected to be $1.4 million, a hefty amount for a small town with a $6 million budget. Neighboring Mantoloking’s bill is almost $1.3 million. Toms River has the highest estimated bill at $2 million.

Before the county confirmed it would pay the entire local part of the beach replenishment bill, Bay Head and Mantoloking were considering taking out loans to pay for their portion of the work. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to award a contract for the work in March, with beach replenishment likely to start in the spring.

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The total bill for Ocean County municipalities is about $7.55 million. The overall cost of the project is about $60 million, with the Army Corps of Engineers covering half and the state and county covering the remainder, according to Ocean County officials.

“Kudos to the (Ocean County) Commissioners, they stepped up. They made everybody whole,” Toms River Mayor Maurice B. “Mo” Hill Jr. said. “They are going to send one check to the (state) DEP on behalf of all the communities on the barrier island.”

Brick Mayor John G. Ducey said he met with Commission Deputy Director Gary Quinn and other barrier island mayors Thursday morning about the beach replenishment deal. Beach rebuilding along Brick’s portion of barrier island typically costs local taxpayers more than $1 million, the mayor said.

“It was a very expensive hit to our budgets,” Ducey said.

At the Ocean County Administrative Building on Thursday, Quinn said the decision was driven by the towns’ economic hardships.

“We know our local municipalities have faced financial struggles as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said in a statement shared with local media. “And we also are well aware of the economic and environmental importance of our beaches.”

“After reviewing the issue further, the Board has agreed that rather than fund 50% of the local share for this project, it will fund 100%,” Quinn said.

In Seaside Heights, Mayor Anthony Vaz said the beach replenishment deal with Ocean County will save the borough’s taxpayers about $750,000. He said the work should begin early this spring.

“It’s going to be fantastic as far as the taxpayers are concerned,” Vaz said. “But also, it’s great because we’re going to have to replenish (the dunes and beach) in the event of any serious weather disaster.”

Prior to Superstorm Sandy, Seaside Heights lacked dunes, which resulted in the 2012 storm’s waves smashing and damaging homes across the community. Since then, the Army Corps of Engineers has insisted the borough have dunes along its beach to protect property and people on this barrier island, Vaz said.

“Dunes have done very well for us when we’ve had those rain or storm disasters (after Sandy),” the mayor said.

Dunes help break waves and buffer homes against wind damage during coastal storms, according to the Army Corps. They also help reduce flooding and erosion that would otherwise eat away at the foundation of homes and businesses, according to the federal agency.

“I’m very thankful to the Ocean County Commissioners for approving this for our community, as well as the other shore communities,” Vaz said. “It’s going to help the taxpayers of Ocean County.”

Barrier island mayors have been seeking help to pay their portion of the beach repair work for nearly a year. In July, the mayors who belong to the barrier island group signed a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy, penned by Hill, the Toms River mayor, asking the state to pay the entire local share to help lower the burden on municipalities.

In September, the Ocean County Board of Commissioners agreed to pay half of the towns’ costs. Now they’ve agreed to take on the whole burden. Hill said he is disappointed that the mayors never received an answer, or an offer of funding, from the state.

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“Everyone in the state uses our beaches,” Hill said.

About $30 million in funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill has been set aside to pay for the Army Corps’ first major beach repair project in northern Ocean County since the corps finished a nearly $129 million beach expansion and dune-building program in the area in 2019.

As part of that project, the corps agreed to return to the area to make repairs for 50 years on a regular basis, and on an emergent basis after severe storms.

The $30 million in funding represents only about 50% of the estimated cost of the repair work. The state and local municipalities are responsible for the remainder of the cost. In the past, New Jersey has paid 75% of the cost, with municipalities paying the remaining 25%.

The state paid the entire local share of the massive beach project that was completed in 2019, shoring up areas that suffered some of the most severe damage after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Seaside Heights raised beach badge prices in 2021 and 2022 in order to create a fund to help pay the borough’s share of the costs for future beach replenishment projects. Borough Administrator Chris Vaz said last year that the state had indicated it was unlikely to pay the local share of beach building projects in the future.

Since the Army Corps’ Manasquan to Barnegat inlets project was completed three years ago, severe beach erosion has occurred in Bay Head, Ortley Beach and parts of Mantoloking.

The new beach replenishment project is expected to pay closer attention to those areas that have experienced severe erosion since the initial work was finished.


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