By Donald Wittkowski
After listening to complaints from local residents about the difficulties of walking through the deep beach sand, Sea Isle City is planning to spend $100,000 this year to buy more handicap-accessible “Mobi-Mats.”
A $40 million beach replenishment project two years ago beautified Sea Isle’s shoreline with nearly 3 million cubic yards of pristine new sand. However, the wider beaches are harder to walk on, especially for senior citizens or disabled people who struggle to navigate through the thick, powdery sand.
The city’s new five-year capital plan will allow Sea Isle to buy and install more Mobi-Mats in time for the 2018 summer beach season. The non-slip mats lie on top of the sand, providing an easier transition from the gravel pathways over the dunes to the beaches.
Sea Isle already has Mobi-Mats on its handicap-accessible beaches at 32nd Street, 40th Street, John F. Kennedy Boulevard, 44th Street, 63rd Street and 85th Street. The mats will remain on those beaches.
George Savastano, the city’s business administrator, said there are plans to add Mobi-Mats at about every three blocks between 20th Street and 93rd Street. The city still must decide on the exact locations, he noted.
“We have made a commitment, and we’re going to do it right,” Savastano said.
Colored a distinctive sky blue, the mats are impossible to miss. At Sea Isle’s six handicap-accessible beaches, the Mobi-Mats average 70 feet long, creating easier trips across the soft sand.
Ever since the replenishment project was completed, Sea Isle has concentrated on maintaining the gravel pathways that cross over the dunes to provide easy access to the beaches. But local residents have been calling for the city to install more Mobi-Mats to create even better access, especially for senior citizens and disabled people.
“Certainly, for a summer beach issue, that was something I was focused on,” City Council President Mary Tighe said of having the city buy more Mobi-Mats.
Tighe pointed out that her 75-year-old mother, Marie Tighe, has been among the local senior citizens who want better beach access.
The city’s proposed five-year capital plan includes an additional $100,000 to buy even more Mobi-Mats in 2021.
Altogether, the capital plan proposes $26.5 million in spending from 2018 to 2022 for a series of municipal projects, including road and drainage improvements to reduce coastal flooding across the island.
Tighe stressed that flood-fighting projects remain Sea Isle’s top priority in the capital plan. The city is in the midst of conducting a comprehensive flooding study, which is expected to be finished later this year.
The study will help the city identify and prioritize flood-prone areas as it continues to address the problem. Drainage improvements, road construction and pumping stations to clear floodwater from the streets are key parts of the strategy.
The capital plan is considered a broad blueprint for the city’s critical infrastructure needs, particularly the roadways, beaches, the Promenade and flood-prone areas. Savastano described it as a “best guesstimate” for where the city should concentrate its spending.
“None of this appropriates any money. It is just a plan,” he said. “We will have to come back with a funding ordinance next.”
A funding ordinance would finance the capital and water and sewer projects proposed in 2018, not the entire five-year plan. Projects planned from 2019 to 2022 would be funded in coming years as part of the city’s annual spending
In all, the capital plan proposes about $6.5 million worth of projects in 2018. Big-ticket items include $1.9 million for utility improvements, $1.8 million for road and drainage projects and $1.8 million for facilities and buildings.
Of the $1.8 million in spending proposed for facilities and buildings, $1.3 million would go toward the renovation or redevelopment of the former Sea Isle City Public School into a community recreation center.
The school closed in 2012 due to declining student enrollment. Since then, there has been debate over whether to renovate the existing school site or build an entirely new complex for recreation. The project remains under discussion.
The capital plan also proposes $475,000 in spending for projects to improve the beaches, the Promenade and the bay areas in 2018. This category includes the $100,000 for new Mobi-Mats, $250,000 for new lights and a speaker system for the Promenade and $100,000 for lagoon dredging.
Decorative lighting is planned along the Promenade’s entire length between 29th Street and 57th Street in 2018 and 2019 at a total cost of $500,000. The lighting will brighten up darker areas of the popular oceanfront walkway to make them safer and more attractive, Savastano said.
Looking ahead to 2019, the city is proposing to spend $1 million for lagoon dredging and another $1 million on beach replenishment.
Savastano said the city is discussing the possibility of dredging the lagoons along Venicean Road, 38th Street and Sounds Avenue and the city’s marina to create deeper channels for boat traffic.
The city is working on the permits and designs for dredging projects that would begin in late 2019 or early 2020. Savastano said Sea Isle would like to create the opportunity for private property owners to piggyback on the city’s permit to dredge their own boat slips.