By Briana Vannozzi
With Memorial Day weekend just days away, shore towns are back up on their feet after recovering from the one-two blow delivered by Mother Nature.
“This winter we had a couple of storms that just chewed away at the beaches. Joaquin in September and then Jonas actually in January,” said Jon Miller, coastal expert at Stevens Institute of Technology.
The coastal storms beat the surf, taking with it millions of cubic yards of sand, leaving steep cliffs and shrunken shore lines.
“Joaquin was really the duration of the storm that chewed away at the beaches for about a week. Sort of like a boxer, a lot of body blows just kind of slowly but surely wearing down the beaches. And Jonas was the opposite. Jonas was the heavyweight that just comes in with one big punch,” Miller said.
“We’ve lost a tremendous amount of sand and we are in desperate need of beach replenishment,” said Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty.
Doherty says the town and beach are open for business despite the setback. Generally, the southern part of the state got hit the hardest.
“The beach looks great and it will be ready for the tens of thousands of middle class families that come to Belmar and the rest of the Jersey Shore for Memorial Day weekend and all of through the summer, but as beautiful as the beach is it also acts as a natural barrier. It mitigates against storm surges and right now the beach is in a weakened state,” he said.
Communities with beach fill projects were able to withstand the storms better than those still waiting. Many, like Ortley Beach in Ocean County, still weren’t replenished to pre-Sandy levels.
“In anticipation of that last year the council passed an emergency resolution so we didn’t have to go out to bid every time we needed sand. And we’ve spent millions of dollars now in the last couple of years,” said Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher.
Many considered Ortley Beach ground zero after Superstorm Sandy. The mayor admits it’s been a catch-up game ever since.
“It’s kind of a Band-Aid effort but there’s not a whole hell of a lot we can do except do what we’re doing. I think right now we are doing everything we can do to solve the problem and yet we have to admit we’re limited because until the Army Corps really moves the beaches out by a football field’s length, we’re still going to have a degree of vulnerability,” Kelaher said.
That leaves environmental groups begging the question: should the federal and state government spend the millions of dollars to put sand back on beaches if it’s just a temporary fix?
“We’re not going to be able to stay everywhere along the coastline. Ortley Beach is a great example because it used to be a place where the ocean broke through regularly. That’s not a place we’re going to be able to keep houses on for the long term and in the short term it’s just going to be increasingly expensive and very, very difficult for the towns and people to pay for,” said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society.
It’s a tough argument. Tourism brings in roughly $43.5 billion for the state.
Here in Ortley Beach, town officials say they’re ready for the start of the season. Public Works crews will be out here right up until the weekend reinstalling a fence to protect these dunes that took so many months to rebuild.