By David Cruz
On the kind of a day you could only love if you absolutely had to be here, workers were hoping the ocean stayed calm and the rain held up as they dredged sand from the ocean floor to replenish the storm-battered beaches at Ortley Beach.
“What we are doing right now is we’re placing sand in Ortley — an interim fill of sand — before we come to do the full beach and dune. Ortley is one of the most vulnerable sections of the coast right now,” said Director of NJ Department of Environmental Protection, Bill Dixon. “So we’re basically widening the beach. It’s basically providing a buffer.”
It’s hard to forget images of the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy where thousands of homes were damaged and destroyed. Ortley Beach was especially hard hit. Residents have been pressing for the beach replenishment to begin. The result of 267,000 cubic yards of sand will be a 125-foot wide beach that will extend to 300 feet in parts with 20-foot dunes to be built after the summer season, when these crews will be back to finish the project. With nobody on the beach today, and the weather mostly holding up, conditions were perfect for getting some work done.
“This dredge that we’re seeing right now is full of sand. It’s going to come up, it’s going to hook up to that, what we call a floating line. It’s going hook up to that and then it’s going to start pumping sand onto the beach,” Dixon said.
Crews are working on the beach in 1,000-foot intervals, so that impact on sunbathers will be minimal, not that anyone was expecting much sun today. Over at town hall, Mayor Tom Kelahar said watching the crews work brought back some poignant memories.
“It was absolutely frightening. All out in front of you, where there used to be big homes out to Route 35, traffic light, real estate office, there was nothing. All you could see was sand and the ocean. Just kind of took your breath away. And, while were standing there you could see where the water had broken through the ocean and was continuing to flow from the ocean into the bay,” Kelahar said.
This project was not all smooth sailing. Many of the towns that make up the ocean side here were skeptical of the project and the dunes it will leave in its wake. The DEP is still awaiting resolution from court challenges brought by some residents who are refusing to grant easements.
“Every time a storm comes up the coast I know the people who live there are anxious as to whether they’re going to be safe or not, so this will give them comfort and protect that area,” said Kelahar.
This phase of the project is expected to take two weeks, after which crews will move on to Lavalette. The price tag? $128 million, paid for in a 65/35 split between the feds and the state, all to move tons of sand from the ocean’s floor, to where Kelaher and Dixon both agree this stuff will eventually return, even as officials will spend the next 50 years – which is what they said they’ll do – periodically refilling the beach.