Written by Carole Mattessich
Wednesday, 09 June 2010
WILDWOOD CREST – While other resort towns spend millions to pump sand on eroded beaches, the beaches in Wildwood Crest just keep getting bigger and bigger. But applications filed with regulatory authorities in recent months demonstrate how the beach’s growth creates problems of its own. This spring, the borough had to obtain an emergency beach maintenance permit allowing it to use sand from its front beach – near water’s edge – to address problems at the back, where there is a mishmash of dunes in one area and bulkheads of questionable structural integrity in another.
Emergency work was also needed to address ponds that formed in back beaches as a result of this winter’s storms. With water as deep as three feet in some places, the expansive ponding barred beach access and jarred visitors who, instead of finding a scenic view of the ocean, came upon what appeared to be a new lake covering whole beaches. This spring’s emergency work made beaches usable for tourist season, when between 20,000 and 40,000 beachgoers visit daily, but the borough is trying to come up with long-term solutions. Beach issues were explored at City Hall Thursday, June 3, by environmental consultants Kristin Wildman and Joe Lomax of the Lomax Consulting Group, and borough engineer Jim Verna of Van Note-Harvey, during a special meeting of the borough’s commissioners. The team described recent and anticipated beach efforts in a detailed presentation that left one resident asking why things couldn’t just be as simple as they were 50 years ago.
Shifting sands The quick answer was that circumstances have changed drastically. Wildwood Crest’s beaches range from two to three city blocks in width, much wider than decades ago. One measure of the extent of new growth is that, on three separate occasions over the past nine years, the borough had to extend outfall pipes that traverse the beach in various spots, draining rain water east of Seaview Avenue, by hundreds of feet each round. Beach expansions occur due to the constant deposit of sand along the coastline, Wildman explained last week. A continuous build-up results from net littoral drift – a fancy term for what happens when sand moving with ocean currents is blocked on its journey south by the Cape May Inlet jetties constructed during the early 1900s between Cape May and Five Mile Island. One of those jetties extends 4,500 feet out into the ocean, Wildman noted, leaving Cape May’s beaches hungry for new sand while Wildwood Crest’s beaches, north of the jetties, get a continual supply, with more deposited at each high tide. While that’s a good thing in some ways, it didn’t prevent damage during this winter’s coastal storms. If anything, it contributed to the unusual ponding that officials say created a public safety hazard and blocked beach access. And it could have been even worse, she said. “If you get hit with another coastal storm (when ponding exists), there’s no sand surface to create the friction to stop the wave action. If you get another storm surge up over these ponded areas, it’s a straight shot to the dunes and structures,” said Wildman. This winter, the ponding phenomenon placed properties in the back beach area at “critical risk,” she noted.
Solutions, short and long-term Borough officials realized that it had to act quickly to find a short-term fix that would permit tourists to use the beach this summer, Wildman said. The borough obtained emergency permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Army Corps of Engineers, but was required to complete all work by March 30, when protected beach nesting birds typically arrive. Borough Engineer Jim Verna explained last week that the borough determined the most cost-effective and rapid approach would be to collect sand from the front beach to deposit in the back beach’s low ponding areas. Some sand also came from the manmade dunes placed at Rosemary Road between 2007 and 2009. The state instructed the borough to remove those dunes this spring because they contributed to the ponding problem, Verna said. The emergency process took 375,000 cubic yards of sand, Verna said, noting that the sand taken from water’s edge will be naturally replenished over time. “It was a temporary measure, but it was absolutely necessary,” Verna explained. Commissioners realized that additional, long-term planning was necessary to preserve and protect the borough’s beaches, Wildman said. Engineer Joe Lomax explained that as his firm assessed the beaches, it became clear that the borough needed to augment its existing dune system from Rambler Road north, and to establish a dune system from Rambler Road south – where only three isolated areas of dunes existed. In addition, Wildman noted, because the bulkheads south of Rambler Road lack dune protection and were designed as seawalls, they don’t provide the structural support that could hold up to severe storms. Lomax said his firm concluded that the appropriate remedy for the area north of Rambler Road is to “grow” dunes toward the water by putting in sea fences that will accumulate sand as it blows west, after which strips of American beach grass and more fences will be put in place. This will move the existing dunes toward the water and not up, he said. Vegetation will be used to minimize sand blowing back into buildings or roads, he added. As long as beaches are raked and “fluffed,” which helps sand dry so it can blow westward, the sand will find a way to the dune system, the presenters explained. (Verna noted that elevations of existing dunes, now six to six and a half feet, will in no event be increased over 11.5 feet.) The solution for the southern areas is to build the dunes anew, essentially by the same process. The process of “naturally growing the dunes” is much less costly than bringing in sand from outside, Lomax noted, a process which can cost between $5 to $15 per cubic foot of sand – meaning millions of dollars for a full-beach project. Lomax pointed to the successful dune creation at the Wildwoods Convention Center, which was built on an “absolutely flat” beach. The key is daily beach raking, the experts said, but the full-beach raking needed on Wildwood Crest’s expansive beaches is well beyond the limits of what the state’s general coastal permit allows, and the borough thus became involved in its most recent application for an individualized CAFRA permit. General permits limit beach raking to within 300 feet of a manned lifeguard stand. They also limit the depth of digging to relocate sand, and permit holders may not dig in an area again until it grows back to what it was before an initial extraction. “We excavated three to four feet in some areas of berms,” Verna said of this spring’s emergency work, “and under a general permit you can only excavate to 12 inches.” Wildman and Verna noted that DEP standards are tailored to typical beach sizes, which range from 100 to 250 feet, not to 1,500-foot beaches like those in the Crest. “We really need this dune system to protect the community, and we have to be able to exceed their standards on raking,” Wildman said of DEP general permit regulations. “300 feet just isn’t going to cut it here.”
DEP Review The borough’s current application covers the creation, restoration and reinforcement of the borough’s dune system, and the raking and other maintenance activities required to maintain that system. The borough also piggybacked some other projects in the application, in order to avoid multiple DEP processing fees – which can run as high as $30,000. Those other projects include rehabilitation of the clubhouse at the Heather Road Pier and extension of the pedestrian/bike path that runs from Cresse Avenue to Rambler Road. Verna said that, if only the general permit were available, the state would be “trying to impose the impossible on this community.” The DEP must find ways to help all communities, not just those with replenishment projects, he suggested. The team, and borough commissioners, all urged members of the public to send public comments about the proposed changes to the DEP. The deadline for comment is June 12, and, according to the experts, the DEP is sensitive to community support. Those interested can review a copy of the proposed Oceanfront Management Plan at the city clerk’s office at Borough Hall.
Carole Mattessich can be e-mailed at email@example.com , or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 250.