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Wildwoods Mayors Talk ‘State of the Island’

Christopher South
Members of the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce at the Fairview Social restaurant in Wildwood for the annual State of the Island address by the island communities’ mayors.

By Christopher South

WILDWOOD – The mayors of three island communities gave their annual State of the Island reports at the invitation of the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, April 10.

Going from north to south, the mayors of the island communities spoke to the chamber members gathered at the Fairview Social on Pacific Avenue in Wildwood. North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello began his remarks by commenting that West Wildwood Mayor Matt Ksiazek was attending his first State of the Island. He quickly moved on to acknowledge the host establishment and one of its owners, Joe Byrne, without whom, Rosenello said, there would be no Barefoot Country Music Festival in Wildwood.

Rosenello highlighted the ongoing back bay dredging, which he said had not been done since the 1970s, after the state turned the matter over to the Department of Transportation. He said the project, which is very important to boaters, will be completed throughout the Wildwoods.

North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello at the State of the Island lunch.

Rosenello said North Wildwood will begin Phase I of its boardwalk improvement project with local and federal money. He said a state-funded project will begin at 26th Avenue and proceed north. A federal project will begin at 16th Avenue, and the two projects will meet.

Another project he mentioned is the Gold Star Families Gateway project around Spruce and New Jersey avenues. There will be a Gold Star memorial, veterans organizations memorials and a monument honoring all of the military branches.

North Wildwood will also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Hereford Inlet lighthouse, which is no longer manned but is maintained by the Coast Guard as an aide to navigation.

Rosenello also spoke about North Wildwood’s beaches, as has been widely reported on in the Herald.

“The beach situation … it’s not good, and it’s not gotten better,” he said.

Rosenello said the city has had contact with the governor’s office in the last couple of weeks and described Gov. Phil Murphy as “actively involved” in the situation.

“Nothing has happened yet, but it’s a positive step,” he said.

The North Wildwood City Council has introduced an ordinance to limit the size of beach umbrellas, cabanas and other structures on the beaches due to the diminished size of the beach area.

West Wildwood Mayor Matt Ksiazek made his first State of the Island address.

Ksiazek followed Rosenello, saying West Wildwood is a bedroom community and is “uniquely challenged” among its neighbors. The municipality has been striving for years to upgrade its stormwater sewer system and bulkheads to protect residents and property from flooding. At the same time, Ksiazek said, the borough works harder with less, being innovative and establishing shared services agreements to keep costs down.

“Cooperation with our sister communities is essential,” he said.

The borough, which is 3.6 square miles, is operated with a $3.4 million budget, including its own Police Department, Public Works Department, a volunteer fire company and a full office staff, he said. With the help of grants, the borough has done $10 million in infrastructure upgrades. He said the residents raised approximately $10,000 for park upgrades and beautification, and that residents volunteer for beach cleanups.

Ksiazek said the borough is engaged in long-term planning for flood mitigation and resiliency. He said the borough received a $200,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for that purpose and is proceeding with a $2.5 million living shoreline project. He said the borough will end up with about $5 million in resiliency projects.

“Improving our infrastructure is our number one priority for the future,” he said.

Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. began his comments by referring to the boardwalk replacement between Schellinger and Spicer avenues. He said the city was able to do extra boardwalk replacement with some leftover money from a previous grant.

“We received $8.3 million in funding from the state,” Troiano said, “and we’re trying to get to Convention Hall.”

He said the city has applied for a permit to widen the boardwalk in that area by 10 to 15 feet.

Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano expressed optimism for a “very, very good summer.”

Troiano said beach concert ticket sales are up over last year. He said the Barefoot Country Music Festival, mentioned by Rosenello, is the biggest in the world.

He said that although it is not necessarily wanted, or needed, in Wildwood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/NJDEP’s dune and beach berm project is scheduled to start in 2025, beginning in Wildwood Crest and moving north.

“Wildwood does not have a problem,” the mayor said, alluding to the beach erosion that has plagued North Wildwood.

Troiano also referred to the back bay dredging project, from which the city is receiving dredge material to cap the former landfill site.

“The dump itself will be a bird sanctuary – 18 acres – without a tree on it,” he said.

He said the trees were removed to facilitate pumping in the dredged material, adding that it is now planned to take place in three phases so the material will have time to dry out. He also referred to the town’s own living shoreline project in the area with public access.

Troiano addressed redevelopment in Wildwood and on Pacific Avenue in particular.

“If you haven’t been here for a while and you drive down Pacific Avenue you would not know where you are,” he said. “We are in the midst of the biggest building boom since the ‘40s to ‘60s.”

The mayor said there is nowhere else to build among the shore communities, adding, “Big money is coming, and it’s coming strong.”

Troiano said the time is ripe for high-rise construction in Wildwood and that high-rise hotels are needed to provide for the demands of tourism. He also cited ongoing improvements, including Maxwell Field, crediting Commissioner Krista McConnell for her work on the project, and talked about the flooding on Pacific Avenue, being addressed with outfall pipe improvements and a pump station.

The mayor said the Wildwood Board of Commissioners would meet later that evening to approve its $35 million municipal budget for 2024. He said the budget included a 1.5-cent tax rate increase, which he called “not bad” when compared to a 35-cent tax rate increase when he was first elected in 2003. He said the city tries to offset taxes through extensive “begging” – referring to grants.

“We are one of the biggest communities for begging,” he said. “We are fortunate to get a lot of money through begging.”

Troiano concluded his remarks by talking about public safety on the island. He said Wildwood and other island communities were enacting a 10 p.m. curfew for unaccompanied juveniles as a way of cutting down on crime and improving the quality of life for residents and guests. He said the Wildwood Police Department has a full complement of officers but in recent years has had difficulty getting enough Class II officers for the summer season.

“Keep in mind that if you are on the boardwalk and see someone riding a bike when they are not supposed to, and you ask, ‘Why are they not doing something?’ we just don’t have the time or the officers,” he said.

That aside, Troiano said he anticipated a very good summer for the Wildwoods.

Neither Wildwood Crest Mayor Don Cabrera nor his representative were able to make the State of the Island event, but Cabrera said later he hoped to speak at another chamber event.

Thoughts? Questions? Call Christopher South at 609-886-8600 x-128 or email csouth@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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