NORTH WILDWOOD – With Memorial Day weekend around the corner, the city is making a last-ditch effort to get permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to improve safety conditions and open beach paths that had to be closed after a bad winter of erosion.
In a request for emergency authorization, which North Wildwood submitted to the DEP May 10, the city asks the state regulator for permission to regrade dunes, where waves have carved cliffs in the sand. The city also asks for permission to reconstruct and reopen three closed beach paths at 13th, 14th, and 15th avenues.
In its request to regrade the dune, a proposal to address what the city considers a “significant public safety hazard,” North Wildwood focuses on a three-block area between 13th and 16th avenues, where it says it suffered “the most severe erosion, worsened by the October 2022 offshore passage of Hurricane Ian and subsequent unnamed coastal storm events.”
The request is the third time since last summer that the city has asked the DEP for permission to regrade the dune, something the state agency denied following requests in October 2022 and again in February. The dispute over how to deal with the condition offers a window into the two very different perspectives that exist between City Hall and Trenton.
A letter containing the emergency authorization request, submitted by Peter Lomax, an environmental consultant for the city, points out the findings of Dr. Stewart Farrell, the founder of Stockton University’s Coastal Research Center, who called 15th Avenue in North Wildwood “the most erosional site in New Jersey.”
In addition to fears of a dune breach, the city also expressed its concern about the possibility of a dune collapse. A May 11 letter from Neil Yoskin, an attorney for the city, to Colleen Keller, the assistant director of the DEP’s Division of Land Resource Protection, points to the recent death of a teenager on the Outer Banks, North Carolina, due to a dune which collapsed, burying him with sand while he stood in a hole that had been dug on the beach.
“This is a matter of enormous concern to North Wildwood,” Yoskin wrote. “With the number of people that will soon be on the beach and boardwalk, the City simply cannot tolerate the ongoing risk.”
A timeline provided as part of the request indicates the work could be completed within 10 days after approval is granted, barely in time for the Memorial Day holiday.
However, an email from Keller sent at the end of the day May 11, in response to the city’s request, questioned if doing the work would actually make the city more vulnerable to a future storm. Keller’s email did not offer a response to the city’s request one way or the other but asked for clarification on several points raised in the city’s application.
“The proposed removal of sand/reduction of the elevation of existing dunes seems counterintuitive to shore protection efforts,” Keller wrote to the city.
She pointed out that any sand removed from the dune would have to be eventually replaced to mitigate those effects and stated the DEP continues to have concerns over the city’s “alternative analysis” discrediting other methods the DEP prefers to solve the safety concerns without further damaging what’s left of the dunes.
In addressing the alternatives, the city provides various reasons it feels they are impractical. For example, the city says trucking in sand from mines or other inland sources would cost eight times as much as what it is proposing and logistically could not be completed before Memorial Day.
The city said it also cannot bulldoze sand from the lower part of the beach up to reinforce the dune because of the lack of sand reserves existing on the beaches, and further points out there is insufficient time to truck sand down from the beaches of neighboring municipalities.
The DEP’s email requests specific responses from the city to various questions, setting a deadline of May 12, in the spirit of working on an accelerated timeline in light of the approaching season.
According to the North Wildwood city clerk’s office, no response had been provided by the city as of the morning of May 15.
The two sides are due back in front of Superior Court Judge Michael J. Blee May 22, where the DEP’s motion to dismiss a $21 million counterclaim brought against them by North Wildwood will likely be heard.
To reach the reporter, Shay Roddy, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 609-886-8600, ext. 142.