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N. Wildwood, DEP Exchange War of Words Over Beach Work

A close-up of the signs the City of North Wildwood posted at its beach entrances recently.

A close-up of the signs the City of North Wildwood posted at its beach entrances recently.

By Christopher South

NORTH WILDWOOD – North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Shawn LaTourette are having a war of words in which LaTourette claims he is “perplexed” and Rosenello says he is “befuddled.”
“I write today perplexed by the City of North Wildwood’s recent actions, which again break state law, violate a court order, and contradict our many productive personal discussions over the last six months,” LaTourette wrote in a letter, dated July 6, addressed to Rosenello.
Rosenello said he was befuddled as to how the DEP could hold up a dune protection project for 10 years and then complain that the city is doing work the state should have already done.
“… I share your perplexity and frustration,” Rosenello wrote in a reply letter, dated July 11, addressed to LaTourette, “that we continue to find ourselves at loggerheads over issues that both organizations should be working on cooperatively to address.”
Rosenello said it was in the spirit of trying to fix what is an “obviously broken relationship” between North Wildwood and the DEP that he was going to present the city’s position on several issues. Rosenello first advised the DEP that the city was not a private, for-profit business that was violating rules for monetary gain.
“Every action the city has taken has been to preserve public safety, and or public and private property,” Rosenello wrote.
The action the city has taken includes reshaping dunes, specifically between 12th and 16th avenues. A Notice of Violation (NOV) from the DEP, written after an evaluation of oceanfront beach and dunes performed June 6, said the city’s work was in violation of the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA).
The NOV cites grading dunes and grading or filling access areas June 5 through June 7 without first obtaining a permit. The DEP denied an emergency authorization (EA) request made June 5 to do the grading and filling work, which the DEP’s Division of Land Resource Protection called an “after-the-fact EA request.”
Rosenello told the Herald, July 3, that the city was posting signs at every beach entrance reading, “Voice your concerns about New Jersey’s inaction on North Wildwood’s URGENT BEACH ISSUES!”
The signs identify LaTourette and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy as being “directly responsible for the state’s inaction on replenishing North Wildwood’s beaches.” The reader is asked to call the governor and DEP commissioner and demand answers regarding beach replenishment.
Coincidentally, at the July 5 North Wildwood City Council meeting, it was announced in the meeting agenda packet that, May 24, North Wildwood was presented with an award for having the ‘Best Beach’ by bestofjerseyshore.com.
Still, there are critical areas the city has been trying to address for several years, mainly in the area identified in NOVs from the DEP, which include the beach and dune in front of the North Wildwood Beach Patrol building at 15th Avenue.
The city has expressed its concern that the Beach Patrol building is in danger of being compromised if it loses the dune to erosion.
The dune has suffered so much erosion that the city had to close a beach entrance located in front of the building. The city also purchased steel bulkhead materials with the intention of installing a bulkhead in front of the building, but has held off in light of the ongoing conflict with the DEP.
The DEP has fined North Wildwood $13 million for the work it has done, and, in turn, the city has sued the DEP for $21 million for work it has had to do to preserve the dunes and protect lives and property.
The DEP has said that, rather than doing nothing, it has dedicated $16 million toward a coastal preservation project. Rosenello said of the $16 million, $10 million belongs to the 10-year-old, island-wide beach berm and dune project that is still in the design phase.
“And $6 million was authorized under (former governor) Chris Christie. That is three (DEP) commissioners ago. Are they at some time going to expend these funds? Maybe. But he (LaTourette) makes it seem like they are actively out there doing beach work,” Rosenello said.
The city worked to rebuild three beach entrances before Memorial Day, but there is currently no work being done on the beaches.
Rosenello said he believes the letter from LaTourette was actually in retaliation for the signs being posted at the beach entrances, as well as a ruling by Superior Court Judge Michael Blee, who allowed the city’s lawsuit to go forward.
Rosenello said the lawsuit is now in the deposition and discovery phase. He said the DEP’s reaction was to send a “five-page threatening screed” to the city.
As far as LaTourette’s letter, the DEP commissioner advised the city that the steps it has taken to combat shore erosion might actually be making matters worse.
LaTourette wrote that the work the city has conducted on its northernmost beaches, which he described as “a known erosion hotspot,” is “wrongheaded and must stop.”
LaTourette wrote that the city’s concerns are not unique along the New Jersey coast, but North Wildwood’s actions represent a “flagrant disregard for the law.”
Rosenello advised LaTourette that the city and DEP disagree in several areas. One of those areas includes the motivation for the beach work the city has engaged in, which LaTourette described as “illegal conduct in the name of tourism, and supposedly, public safety.”
Rosenello countered, saying the work was done to protect public safety, citing a case in North Carolina where a young man was killed as a result of a dune collapse.
Rosenello cited several anecdotes regarding the hazardous conditions that exist at the shore, including those similar to the one that happened in North Carolina, saying LaTourette is simply unfamiliar with the dangers.
“I have stood by while our emergency service personnel tried to revive victims while their family, including young children, were watching,” Rosenello wrote in his letter to LaTourette. “Commissioner, unless or until you or members of your regulatory staff have lived these experiences, you cannot possibly have the same perspective or sense of urgency on public safety as I do.” 
Contact the author, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

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