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Army Corps, DEP Weigh in on Meeting Over Five Mile Dune

Michael Heenan
North Wildwood, seen looking south from above Hereford Inlet Sunday, March 3. The photo, which was taken within an hour of high tide on a mild sunny day, shows an area where erosion has been devastating. A dune and berm project planned in partnership with the state DEP and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would help the city reclaim its beach.

By Shay Roddy

The Herald reached out to the three sides participating in a meeting last month in North Wildwood, seeking more details on the discussions about the Five Mile Dune Project.

Attempts to arrange telephone interviews with multiple attendees from each of the three involved parties – North Wildwood, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – were met with mixed responses.

The Army Corps requested, through a spokesperson, that written questions be submitted instead of granting interviews.

“There are a lot of folks involved in this particular effort so we’d prefer to answer questions via email so we can properly coordinate and make sure staff can weigh in,” Steve Rochette, the spokesman, wrote in an email to the Herald.

The DEP also requested written questions rather than grant interviews with Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette or other meeting participants. They answered most of those written questions in an emailed response sent by press director Larry Hajna.

Both North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello and Council President Salvatore T. Zampirri Sr. agreed to separate phone interviews. Another, more wide-ranging conversation was published in a different article with scientist Stewart Farrell, who also attended on behalf of the city.

Below are the Herald’s email communications with the Army Corps’ Philadelphia District and the DEP. Some minor editing has been done for style, length and clarity.

The Email Exchange With the Army Corps

THE HERALD: How did the meeting come to fruition? Which party’s idea was it, when was it arranged, and why was there a need to have a meeting at this point in time?

THE U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS’ PHILADELPHIA DISRTCT: The meeting was the result of ongoing coordination between USACE, NJDEP and the City of North Wildwood. USACE is in regular coordination with NJDEP and the municipalities, through NJDEP, on a variety of issues at the leadership and staff level. In December, Mayor Rosenello reached out to the North Atlantic Division commander, B.G. Lloyd, with concerns over the project schedule. Jointly it was determined a meeting between the three parties would be the most efficient manner to discuss the concerns.

HERALD: Has there been another time where the top officials from each of the three parties — North Wildwood, the NJDEP and the Army Corps — have all been in the same room to discuss this project?

ARMY CORPS: As part of the continued design effort, NJDEP and USACE have met with all four municipalities and will continue to have meetings as the need arises.

HERALD: Is the Army Corps satisfied with the job the NJDEP has done with regard to the dune project, and has there been a need at any time to urge the DEP to act faster, considering the current circumstances in North Wildwood, a far cry from what the situation was when the project was first presented publicly?

ARMY CORPS: NJDEP has been and continues to be a valued partner on 11 different coastal storm risk management projects along the N.J. coastline.

HERALD: How would you describe the overall tenor of the meeting?

ARMY CORPS: The meeting was a professional exchange of information that satisfied the meeting objectives. All parties involved are working toward a unified solution in the interest of the public.

HERALD: What is the Army Corps’ position on bulkheads along North Wildwood’s beachfront, as far as the dune project is concerned? Would they be a hindrance in any way to the dune’s design and construction?

ARMY CORPS: USACE has accounted for the currently installed bulkhead along the oceanfront in NWW to minimize negative impacts to the federal project.

HERALD: With regard to the method of back passing, rather than dredging to get the sand that will be used in the project, has the erosion that’s occurred since the project was conceived undermined the effectiveness of that strategy in any way? Is the plan to continue to use a borrow area that is part of the islands for the periodic replenishments that will continue for 50 years after the initial construction? Is there concern taking sand away from the beaches of Wildwood and the Crest will be counterintuitive, considering how rapidly North Wildwood’s beaches eroded?

ARMY CORPS: Back passing is an effective approach to beach nourishment that uses the natural coastal processes to the advantage of the project. Eroded sand from North Wildwood is transported through this process, called littoral drift, to the communities to the south. Returning the sand by back passing to North Wildwood provides for a continual renewable sand resource for the project.

Waves reach bulkheads along John F. Kennedy Beach Boulevard, shown here between Second and Eighth avenues close to high tide on Sunday, March 3. Photo Credit: Michael Heenan

The Email Exchange With the DEP

(Please note, some questions were combined for this format, as the DEP opted to address multiple questions in a single response.)

THE HERALD: How did the meeting come to fruition? Which party’s idea was it, when was it arranged, and why was there a need to have the meeting at this point? How would you describe the overall tenor of the meeting? Has there been another time where the top officials from each of the three parties — North Wildwood, the NJDEP and the Army Corps — have all been in the same room to discuss this project?

NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION: The USACE, NJDEP and four municipalities within the Five Mile Dune project area have held regular coordination meetings, as is the case with any beach and dune replenishment project, and will continue to do so. The Feb. 1 meeting was held to provide an update on project progress and schedule.

The recent meeting with North Wildwood was productive and resulted in the following update that was shared with the mayors of municipalities within the project area, which should answer your questions regarding project status (Please note that we cannot comment on matters related to any pending or ongoing litigation):

Dear Mayors,

As the Non-Federal Sponsor on the USACE Hereford Inlet to Cape May Inlet Hurricane Storm Damage Reduction Project (Project), the NJDEP Office of Coastal Engineering (DEP) would like to provide an update on the progression of the Project since the issuance of the Update 65% Project Plans in August of 2023.

DEP and USACE have received comments on the Update 65% Project Plans and are continuing coordination efforts with municipal representatives and some individual property owners to address community and design concerns in anticipation of USACE producing the 90% level plans later this year, in late summer 2024.

DEP is working toward obtaining all necessary real estate interests as part of our State-Federal partnership with USACE. In coordination with our state Department of Law & Public Safety, Division of Law (DOL), DEP has retained CW Solutions for the process of obtaining title searches for all of the properties within the Project area and has obtained Consulting Engineering Services (CES) to perform the survey work for every private parcel and several rights-of-way in the Project area. Efforts to obtain proposals from appraisers are underway and retaining additional appraisers may be considered.

As is typical in any large infrastructure project, the greatest uncertainty in the schedule will be the good faith negotiations with private property owners to obtain voluntary easements. As you know, USACE and DEP will attempt to address private owners’ concerns. Notwithstanding these good-faith efforts, we should expect that condemnation proceedings will be necessary to secure all necessary property interests.

DEP remains committed to providing all necessary documentation to USACE for real estate acquisition by March 2025. This aligns with USACE’s plan for being prepared to advertise by April 2025 with an anticipated contract award in June 2025.

There is risk and uncertainty inherent to real estate acquisition, and the schedule may change as the Project moves through the acquisition process, which involves multiple property owners and judicial action, where necessary. The joint USACE and NJDEP team will continue to work together to mitigate any unforeseen changes.

Thank you for your time,

Erick Doyle, P.E., C.P.M., Assistant Director, Office of Coastal Engineering, NJDEP – Division of Resilience Engineering & Construction

HERALD: How would the DEP describe the status of the real estate easement acquisitions? Please be specific.

DEP: The real estate acquisition for this project is following the same process utilized in the past for other USACE storm damage reduction projects along the coastline. DEP is following all federal and state requirements for each easement acquisition, which includes:

  • Obtaining the certified real estate list from USACE, which identifies the necessary real estate interests;
  • Conducting title searches and obtaining metes and bounds surveys of properties;
  • Obtaining appraisals and entering into good-faith negotiations for private parcels; and
  • Invoking eminent domain authority when unable to obtain a voluntary easement through good-faith negotiations as needed.

HERALD: What factors went into determining that the DEP will be able to provide real estate to the Army Corps for certification in March 2025? What can be said to reassure the public that it is a realistic date to do so, considering so many prior deadlines in this project have been pushed back?

DEP: DEP remains committed to providing all necessary documentation to USACE for real estate acquisition by March 2025. This aligns with USACE’s plan for being prepared to advertise by April 2025, with an anticipated contract award in June 2025. The March 2025 timeline is based on the DEP’s previous experience with real estate acquisition on similar USACE projects. The joint USACE and NJDEP team will continue to work together to keep to this timeline and to mitigate any unforeseen changes that may arise during the process.

HERALD: Does the DEP believe that North Wildwood does not need any interim project, considering the current state of erosion? If not, why not? If an interim project is needed, what does the DEP propose to address the concerns of residents and taxpayers? Please be specific.

DEP: As outlined in various correspondence and official permit and enforcement actions with North Wildwood, the area between 12.5th and 15th Avenue is afforded effective protection by the existing established, vegetated dune system. For the department to consider the need for structural shore protection within this area, detailed information demonstrating that the use of nonstructural methods are not feasible or practicable and that the installation of structural shore protection would not cause adverse impact to the beach and dune system is needed. In addition to this guidance, the department has suggested to NWW that they consider the placement of rock at the northeastern terminus of the bulkhead at 15th Avenue. Rock in this area will absorb wave energy and reduce the potential for wave refraction/erosion of the dune areas immediately to the north. The department also advised that introducing sand back into the littoral system would facilitate the gradual feeding of specific erosional areas along NWW’s oceanfront.

HERALD: Why is the DEP opposed to a bulkhead, specifically between 12th and 15th avenues?

DEP: The Coastal Zone Management Rules (N.J.A.C. 7:7) require that shore protection measures be designed in a manner that reduces the impact to the overall beach and dune system, and that nonstructural shore protection be demonstrated to be infeasible before considering structural shore protection alternatives. Dunes and dune vegetation provide substantial protection from storm-induced erosion. Currently, from 15th Avenue north to the area between 12th and 13th avenues, there is an established, functioning vegetated dune system. Sand naturally transfers throughout the season from one area to another in a coastal system; however, when the sand supply is interrupted by the installation of a hard structure such as a bulkhead, this natural ebb and flow is disrupted. Thus, the department must consider the impact a length of bulkhead installed in one location might have on sand transfer or sand availability on other areas of the beach.

HERALD: Where do things stand regarding the litigation the DEP is involved in against North Wildwood, including its $12.8M AONOCAPAs levied against North Wildwood and the city’s $21M+ lawsuit? Is there reason to believe these matters will be settled, and do the AONOCAPAs need to be settled prior to construction of the dune?

DEP: We cannot comment on matters related to any pending or ongoing litigation.

Contact the author, Shay Roddy, at sroddy@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 142.

Reporter

Shay Roddy is a Delaware County, Pennsylvania native who has always spent as much of his summers as he could at the Jersey Shore. He went to Friends’ Central and is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

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