NORTH WILDWOOD – Attorney Anthony Bucchi, of Cullen Dykman, representing the City of North Wildwood in its lawsuits with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), sent a letter to Superior Court Judge Michael Blee supplementing the city’s opposition to the DEP’s application for injunction against North Wildwood.
The materials provided by Bucchi included a slide presentation prepared by the DEP’s Division of Resilience Engineering and Construction in connection with the Rutgers University Superstorm Sandy 10-year Anniversary Coastal Resiliency Conference, Oct. 6, 2022.
Bucchi told the judge in his letter that the Hereford Inlet to Cape May Inlet project, of which North Wildwood is a part, is the only section along 127 miles of New Jersey coastline that has not been constructed. The project calls for a dune and beach berm to be constructed from North Wildwood to Lower Township’s Diamond Beach section.
Bucchi said the presentation shows that North Wildwood has received only $1.8 million of $595.7 million designated for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and DEP projects, or just .3% of all funding for USACE/DEP projects in the last 10 years.
The $1.8 million was for the Hereford seawall, completed in 2014. Bucchi said that figure is actually less since the Avalon/Stone Harbor beach-fill project has received $40 million since the DEP presentation in October 2022.
Bucchi wrote that the DEP’s presentation shows that the Hereford Inlet to Cape May Inlet project “is the only project within the (Philadelphia) District that is still in the ‘design’ stage.”
“Every other project in the Philly District has been completed,” Bucchi’s letter states.
In December 2022, when the Herald requested what the DEP was doing to move forward with the project, which began in 2013, a spokesperson for the DEP said, “The department is working with the municipalities.”
When asked for comment, DEP spokesperson Caryn Shinske said, “The DEP does not comment on pending litigation.”
Letter A Day After Lawsuit Announced
The letter was filed a day after the City of North Wildwood announced a $20 million lawsuit against the DEP in which it asks the court for damages, claiming the state agency failed to provide “meaningful shore protection.”
North Wildwood sought emergency authorization Oct. 6, 2022, from the DEP to permit the city to install a steel bulkhead in front of the 15th Avenue lifesaving headquarters.
The DEP denied the request, and Dec. 6, 2022, after North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said the city would take whatever action necessary to protect lives and property, the DEP filed a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking to enjoin the City of North Wildwood from constructing the bulkhead. Blee denied the request for an injunction and scheduled a Jan. 17 court date for both parties to appear, anticipating an answer from North Wildwood.
The city’s response also claims the DEP used survey work by an unlicensed individual using amateur equipment upon which to base its denial of the emergency authorization North Wildwood requested.
“The State of New Jersey requires land surveyors to be licensed for their data collection to be deemed valid. That data was then used by the Stevens Institute to produce the report at the heart of the DEP denial and lawsuit,” the city claimed.
Rosenello referred to the information gathered as “useless.”
The city’s answer and counterclaim include certifications from Dr. Stewart Farrell, a leading expert on coastal erosion.
According to the city, Farrell has confirmed that the beach and dune area in and around 15th Avenue, in North Wildwood, has seen the highest rate of beach and dune erosion of any site in New Jersey going back to the mid 1990s.
Herald reporter Christopher South contributed to this story.