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N. Wildwood Responds to Notices of Violation by DEP

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By Vince Conti

NORTH WILDWOOD – The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued two notices of violation to the City of North Wildwood June 6. The notices state that the city engaged in “egregious and potentially knowing violations” of several laws that exist “to ensure the protection of public safety and the environment.”
In the first and most extensive violation notice, DEP’s Bureau of Coastal and Land Use Compliance and Enforcement alleges that the city performed “unauthorized and unpermitted destruction of more than eight acres of mature, densely vegetated natural dunes.” The notice continues with an allegation that the city constructed 2,234 linear feet of unpermitted new bulkhead and engaged in beach grading without regulatory oversight.
In the second notice, DEP ordered the city and BG Capital, LLC to cease unauthorized activities at the Seaport Pier, where the agency alleges construction of a restaurant, bathrooms, a bar, and a food trailer “outside of a sewer service area.”
In both cases, the agency threatens enforcement actions and states that the “city must cease disturbance or destruction to the remaining dunes and immediately stop all ongoing unauthorized construction on the city’s oceanfront, from Hereford Inlet to 22nd Avenue, unless and until necessary approvals from DEP are obtained. Any work that took place and does not receive DEP approval must be restored and structures removed.”
DEP said it found the violations during compliance evaluations April 28 and May 26. The agency stated that the “activity dates back to as early as 2018, with dune removal conducted likely beginning in March 2020, just as the state was dealing with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.” 
North Wildwood Responds
During the North Wildwood City Council meeting June 16, Mayor Patrick Rosenello seemed to dismiss the violations as a misunderstanding, saying it had more to do with DEP impatience than any serious violations. 
“Some of the issues raised in the notices are legitimate,” Rosenello said. 
He added that the DEP was aware that the city planned to seek the necessary permits, as part of its later permitting process dealing with other beach construction. “They knew, but I guess they got a little impatient,” he said.
DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe said that the city’s “activities were undertaken without regard for the laws and regulations that have long been in place to protect the public safety and the fragile ecosystems” that protect the state’s coastal communities. 
While Rosenello appeared to see the notices as an overreaction by the state agency, the council approved a personal services contract with Neil Yoskin, an environmental attorney with Cullen and Dykman, a New York and New Jersey law firm. Rosenello called Yoskin, an ex-DEP lawyer, the best environmental lawyer in the state. 
Rosenello also said that portions of the violation notices left city officials “scratching our heads,” adding that the city plans to “clean up the issues methodically.”
At least one member of the public disagreed with the mayor. Lance Miller expressed his view that the city knowingly “killed the dunes,” leaving residents at the mercy of major storms in the near-term. While Rosenello blamed “Mother Nature” for undermining the dunes, Miller argued that the blame lay with city officials with, he continued, taxpayers now exposed to restoration and penalty expenses if DEP imposes them.
While the notices of violations were issued only by the DEP, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District stated, in an email, that it “is aware of the issue and is looking into the matter.”
Seaport Pier
The notice of violation regarding construction at Seaport Pier is directed to the city and BG Capital, LLC. BG Capital leases the pier from North Wildwood.
A 2017 arrangement between the developer and the city led to the renovation of the long-vacant pier as part of a land-use redevelopment project. BG Capital opened the newly renovated pier in 2018. Construction associated with the renovation had appropriate permits.
The violations alleged by DEP are associated with a recent expansion of the entertainment complex, which took place under a modification permit. As part of that expansion, DEP claims that the construction of a restaurant, bar, storage building, stage, and bathrooms violated the terms of the expansion permit.
Local Attorney Anthony Monzo, speaking for BG Capital, said the stated violations are technical ones. He said the company felt confident that the work done was within the parameters of the expansion permit. Monzo added that “if it is determined that we need additional permits, we will apply for, and obtain, them.”
BG Capital issued a press release, stating that the company had a “very positive and productive conference call with DEP” and will be working “to address any concerns they may have related to this project.”
BG Capital used the press release to distance itself from the other notice of violation. The company stated that while the two notices were issued on the same day, “it is not alleged that BG Capital disturbed or destroyed any dunes or critical wildlife habitat.”
Dunes and Bulkhead
The longer of the two notices of violation was issued only to North Wildwood. It claims the city violated provisions of five separate state laws: Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act, Flood Hazard Area Control Act, Coastal Area Facilities Review Act, Coastal Zone Management Rules, and Water Pollution Control Act. 
As the city’s new environmental attorney responds to the notices of violation, city workers are busy trying to get beaches in order for the busy months of July and August. 
In the DEP press release, McCabe potentially linked the violations to the long-standing agreement for federal and state beach replenishment when she noted that “North Wildwood is scheduled to be part of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and DEP Storm Damage Reduction project consisting of engineered beach and dune construction with periodic renourishment for at least 50 years, stretching from Hereford Inlet, south to Diamond Beach, parts of which may be affected by the disturbance cited in the notices of violation issued today.” 
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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