WILDWOOD CREST – The Borough of Wildwood Crest requested a hearing to pursue “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) after the DEP denied a permit that would have made some beachfront storage and parking facilities legal.
Wildwood Crest Mayor Don Cabrera said the problem with filing such a request with the DEP is that it can take a long time before the matter is resolved.
“The ADR committee of the DEP hears the request of a municipality, and that can take some time – maybe a year. We applied for that hearing, and it could be a couple of hearings. In the meantime, we’re trying to get by,” he said.
The borough was notified in an Aug. 16 letter from the DEP that its request for a Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) permit was denied.
The DEP said Wildwood Crest created dunes that were visible in aerial photos from 1995 to 1997. The presence of the dunes was noted again in 2007, and the notice says between 2007 and 2020 approximately 8,300 square feet of sand were excavated from the dunes. The sand was removed to provide space for emergency response vehicle parking and emergency equipment storage.
The DEP issued a Notice of Violation to Wildwood Crest on March 13, 2021, regarding the parking and storage structures; specifically, three 14-by-40-foot sheds. In response, the borough moved the sheds about a mile away to the Public Works yard and filed for a CAFRA permit in order to make the parking and storage legal with the DEP.
According to findings in the DEP’s notice of violation, the sheds were described by the borough as permanent, and the borough had to provide evidence that they were suitably anchored so as to resist floating or collapsing. The notice also referred to a dune area being excavated and cleared of vegetation to accommodate the three sheds and parking area. Any alteration of a dune must be part of a DEP beach and dune management plan, the notice says.
The DEP said the borough never considered moving the tourist information center, located to the northwest of the beach patrol headquarters, and using that space for storage. Likewise, the DEP said the borough constructed a facility used for bike rental, and three lots containing a public park, which would have been suitable sites for storage.
The DEP recommended the borough use small sheds for beach patrol storage and move them off-site during the off-season.
Cabrera said there is some disconnect between what the DEP recommends and what is practical for the borough.
“We are in the process of getting ready to renovate the beach patrol building. The (Nesbit Information Center) building has been used by tourism as an information center. We’re not prepared to take the tourism headquarters and turn it into storage. It doesn’t make sense,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera said the Nesbit Center is not big enough to suit the borough’s needs, and as far as the bike shop is concerned, he said it is a money maker for the borough. He said the message the DEP is missing is that the sheds are to house all the beach safety equipment – wave runners, rescue boats, etc. – and the DEP wants the borough to store them off-premises.
He said moving this equipment around is both labor-intensive and time-consuming. He said it makes more sense to have all the equipment and vehicles in one location.
Cabrera said the borough had applied for a permit for improvements to a bike path at Sunrise Park when the DEP did a flyover, perhaps with drones. The video showed a disturbed area in the dunes where storing sheds were located, so the DEP sent someone down to investigate. Cabrera said the dune structure there is not as critical as places that don’t have 1,500 to 2,000 feet of beach.
“We gain beach every year, we plant dunes every year, we have plenty of protection for any temporary or permanent structures. The sheds were well-protected. All we’re trying to do is legalize it,” Cabrera said.
The DEP also rejected the borough’s proposal to replace part of the 8,300 square feet of dune that was excavated. The borough proposed to restore a 2,400-square-foot area and create a 3,200-square-foot area of vegetated dune, but the DEP responded, “This area is not only too small but is also largely proposed within the footprint of a future U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dune.”
The reference is to a 2013 plan developed by the Army Corps to build a dune and beach berm from Hereford Inlet to Cape May Inlet – a plan that involves North Wildwood, Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, and Lower Township.
The Borough has also submitted a CAFRA Individual Permit to the DEP for the following five items: dune and beach maintenance activities, bike path improvements north of Rambler Road, widening of pedestrian access through dunes north of Rambler Road, the old library site improvements including expanded parking and water main looping.
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