By Briana Vannozzi
You only need to watch today’s winds whipping down the coastline to remember the vulnerability shore towns face. The Department of Environmental Protection announcing a long-awaited beach replenishment project for northern Ocean County is officially out to bid.
“The northern Ocean County storm reduction project will be the largest single contract shore project in New Jersey that we’ve ever undertaken. It runs all the way from the Manasquan inlet to the Barnegat inlet,” said NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin.
Martin says the 14 mile-long project is expected to cost $150 million. It’s been planned for decades, but local opposition and a lack of federal dollars put it on hold. Until Sandy hit.
“What it means is that it certainly eliminates the risk of the possibility of another damaging storm like Sandy,” said Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher.
Even then, property owners refused to grant easements to start work. The state took it to the courts and has about 350 easements obtained so far, with another 183 pending. Mainly from Bay Head and Point Pleasant Beach.
“We only have about literally only about 25 that are not in the process, in the legal process at some shape or form, but we have literally over 100 currently going through the eminent domain process right now and that last 25 or so we expect to be going through in the next several weeks,” Martin said.
“It actually lets people sleep at night when these storms, these nor’easters come through. People have trouble sleeping. They never know if they’re going to wake up in the morning to water pouring down their street and potentially into their homes again,” said Paul Jeffery, president of the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association.
The project will be carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s been criticized by environmental groups who say the dunes will eventually erode and more money will be needed.
“Intuitively you’re building a defense. You know it’s going to erode away and the answer is yes. At the time this is the best we can do and it’s the best solution from the federal perspective,” said Lt. Col. Michael Bliss, Philadelphia district commander of the Army Corps of Engineers.
But Bliss says the design and funding accounts for rejuvenation over the course of 50 years. An analysis by the Corps shows dunes are still the best method of protection — and sought to eliminate concerns about effects to wildlife after offshore dredging.
“And so look at it and we mitigate the best we can to use the most suitable soil and look at protecting the habitat, all the environmental issues. A fish or crab, all of the wildlife, it’s part of our charter to account for that. We would not have been authorized to go forward if we had not done an analysis on that,” Bliss said.
The federal government will pick up 65 percent of the tab. New Jersey will pay for 35 percent through borrowing in the Sandy Appropriation Act.
The bidding will be wrapped up by the end of the year after the state obtains the rest of those easements through eminent domain. The project is expected to begin in the spring.