NORTH WILDWOOD – The state has approved installation of a steel bulkhead in front of the North Wildwood Beach Patrol headquarters at 15th Avenue, after two recent storms caused severe erosion of the dune there.
North Wildwood asked the state Department of Environmental Protection Tuesday, Sept. 12, for an emergency authorization for the bulkhead after remnants of Tropical Storm Ophelia, followed by a northeast storm, scoured away the entire dune at some points in front of the headquarters.
The DEP agreed to the request, saying, “In light of continued erosion which has worsened conditions at this location recently, the Division has determined an [emergency authorization] is appropriate to prepare this location for hurricane season.”
North Wildwood had been waiting for nearly a year for the DEP to authorize installation of the steel sheeting the city purchased to protect the building, and the materials had been sitting alongside the headquarters. The city had yet to comply with an Aug. 4 letter from the DEP requesting information related to a Coastal Area Facilities Review Act permit.
The DEP’s standard for issuing emergency authorizations, according to attorney Neil Yoskin, who has been representing the city over beach modifications between 13th and 16th avenues, is that there has to be a threat to life, property or environmental degradation, or that such threats are imminent.
Yoskin, speaking to the Herald previously, questioned how the DEP would define imminent. He said that, in this case, the agency reached out to North Wildwood and said the height of the tropical storm season was near and recommended installing the bulkhead to protect the lifeguard building and the city against inundation.
“It was kind of the DEP’s idea,” he said.
Ultimately, he said, the weather conditions over the weekend of Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 were what “did that dune in.”
North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello told the Herald Tuesday, Oct. 3, that an approximately 100-foot section of the dune at 15th Avenue had been removed by the weekend storm. He said that in the course of seven to 10 days, the entire width of the dune was lost.
“They finally acknowledged what we have said for years,” Rosenello said of the DEP approval.
The city told the DEP that work on the bulkhead would begin Sunday, Sept. 24, and continue for approximately four weeks.
The agency informed the city that the recent authorization in no way gives approval for beach construction or structures that have not received agency approval.
Action previously taken by the city without DEP approval included reshaping dunes between 12th and 16th avenues. The DEP issued a notice of violation based on an evaluation of oceanfront beaches and dunes performed Tuesday, June 6, saying the city’s work was in violation of the Coastal Facilities act. The notice cited the city’s grading of dunes and grading or filling of access areas on Monday, June 5, through Wednesday, June 7, without first obtaining a permit.
The DEP denied an emergency authorization request made June 5 to do the grading and filling work, which the agency’s Division of Land Resource Protection called an “after-the-fact [emergency authorization] request.”
The DEP’s recent approval is for approximately 190 linear feet of steel bulkhead to be installed in front of the lifeguard headquarters, as well as wing walls that would run perpendicular to the mean high-water line.
Yoskin said this illustrates a bigger issue that is plaguing North Wildwood – the need for sand on its beaches. He said one of the conditions the DEP listed for granting the authorization was mitigating sand loss associated with grading dunes, to eliminate “scarping” or cliffs.
He said the DEP wanted the city to replace sand on the seaward side of dunes. The city, he said, felt it would be better off placing the sand on the landward side of the dunes. The DEP disagreed, and the sand is being placed in the intertidal zone, which means it could be washed away in a couple of tide cycles.
Rosenello said a major storm could result in the ocean flowing around the new bulkhead. The city has been waiting for this work since 2013, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a dune and beach berm installation project from Hereford Inlet to Cape May Inlet.
The dune would essentially bury the bulkhead the city proposed last year. Rosenello said the project remains in the 65% complete stage, while the DEP, which is a partner with the Corps of Engineers on the project, attempts to secure easements from private property owners along the beachfront.
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