By Donald Wittkowski
In some spots, Sea Isle City’s beaches are as wide as a football field. Many of the dunes tower above the beaches to create a great wall of sand protecting the town from the raging ocean during storms.
“Look at those dunes,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said while marveling at the beachfront on 73rd Street. “They make me very happy. They protect the community, they protect our property and they save us money.”
Although initially there were fears that Sea Isle’s beaches and dunes got hammered during a string of nor’easters that lashed the Jersey Shore in March, a tour Wednesday revealed that they actually are in good shape, except for a few places.
“All things considered, the beaches weathered the storms fairly well,” City Business Administrator George Savastano said.
With Memorial Day weekend approaching in just a few weeks, Sea Isle officials want to make sure the beaches are well-tended for the arrival of the summer tourist crowds.
The beaches are the lifeblood of the Jersey Shore’s multibillion-dollar summer tourism industry. Without beautiful beaches lining the shore, communities are at serious risk of losing their tourists, including Sea Isle, Desiderio noted.
“The beaches play a huge part in whether people come to Sea Isle. They want to know what the beaches look like,” he said.
Sea Isle’s beaches were replenished in 2015 and 2016 with nearly 3 million cubic yards of new sand in a $40 million project funded by the federal government through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Sea Isle’s next round of beach replenishment isn’t scheduled until 2020, so the town is hoping that Mother Nature will help preserve the deep, powdery sand that was deposited the entire length of the island by the Army Corps of Engineers in the last three years.
“This is larger than I can recall in years. I’m really satisfied with the way it looks,” Desiderio said, gazing at some beaches that stretch nearly 100 yards wide, the length of a football field.
At this time, city work crews are largely doing cosmetic work and some patching here and there to get the beaches and dunes ready for summer.
“We need to spruce it up,” the mayor said.
Some of the downtown beaches between 30th and 40th streets suffered erosion, Savastano said.
Most dramatically, some of the dunes between 85th and 89th streets in the Townsends Inlet section were sheared away by the nasty March storms, creating steep drop-offs described as “jagged cliffs” by Mike Jargowsky, the deputy coordinator of Sea Isle’s Office of Emergency Management.
During Wednesday’s beach tour, Desiderio, Savastano and Public Works Department Supervisor Joe Dougherty inspected an approximately 6-foot-high mini-cliff in the dune line at 89th Street.
As a safety measure, the city has blocked off the beaches where the dunes were sliced away. Red caution tape was strung across the walkway leading to the beach at 89th Street on Wednesday.
Dougherty drove a tractor to scoop up loads of sand that were used to repair the jagged dunes. Desiderio said the dunes will look like “sticks of butter” once they are contoured and smoothed out with new sand.
Although Mother Nature was responsible for eroding the beaches in the first place, the city will also depend on Mother Nature to provide the extra sand to help restore the damaged dunes.
Savastano said the city plans to scrape sand near the water’s edge during low tide and use it to patch up the dunes and replenish some of the beaches.
In turn, sand taken from the water’s edge will be restored by the tides and the natural buildup of sand along the shoreline that occurs during the spring, Savastano explained.
“Mother Nature takes it away in winter and then gives it back in late spring and early summer,” he said.
Savastano is intimately familiar with the dynamics of beach erosion. He is a civil engineer, in addition to being Sea Isle’s business administrator. He formerly worked with the Army Corps of Engineers, overseeing beach replenishment projects in Cape May and Ocean City in the 1990s.
Savastano said Sea Isle’s replenished beaches are so wide that the city is preparing to add more beach mats this summer to improve access for beachgoers.
The so-called “Mobi-Mats” lie on top of the thick, powdery sand, making it easier for beachgoers to walk to coveted spots along the water’s edge. They are especially convenient for people who are elderly, have disabilities or use wheelchairs.
There are plans to place new Mobi-Mats on beaches at about every three blocks between approximately 29th Street and 93rd Street, Savastano said. The exact number and the locations still must be determined.
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.
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, relieving beachgoers of the difficulties of trudging through soft sand.
Although the wide beaches may cause some inconvenience for beachgoers, Desiderio is thankful to have so much sand along Sea Isle’s shoreline. He stressed that the protective dunes have never been compromised – although there has been damage in some spots – ever since the beaches were replenished in 2015 and 2016.
“These dunes have never been breached by the ocean since then,” he said. “Before, there were times when we could not travel from 29th to First Street because the water would stay there for weeks.”