By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City has suffered another round of severe beach erosion at the southern tip of the island, leaving at least one oceanfront home perilously close to where the damaged dunes drop off sharply like mini-cliffs.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio said the city will continue with a process known as “sand harvesting” to fortify sections of the dunes that are badly eroded in the general area of 88th Street to 92nd Street near Townsends Inlet.
“Over the past week, the city suffered some additional beach erosion from the recent storm-driven wave action and high tides; and it’s of particular concern at the south end of the island around 90th Street. To address this, our Public Works crews will be performing sand harvesting to provide some level of protection to the adjacent properties,” Desiderio said in a statement during a City Council meeting Tuesday.
Sea Isle’s work crews will continue to strengthen the dunes until the beaches begin to replenish themselves through the natural buildup of sand that typically occurs in late spring and the summer, Desiderio explained.
The plan calls for harvesting beach sand from the edge of the water during low tide to shore up the dunes. Earthmovers are used to push the sand up against the dunes. Sand scraped away near the ocean is then naturally restored by the waves during the incoming tides, so nothing is really lost, Sea Isle officials say.
Sea Isle began sand harvesting operations in February after the dunes were sheared away between 88th and 92nd streets. The edge of the dunes had become mini-cliffs towering about 10 to 20 feet high.
Another bout of storms in March washed away much of the new sand that was placed against the dunes in February. High winds from Tuesday’s storm threatened to do even more damage.
In one dramatic case, an oceanfront house at the end of 90th Street appears to be only a few feet from where the dunes drop off. Other oceanfront homes are close to the edge of the eroded dunes. What appears to be decorative landscaping from some of the homes is on the brink of tumbling over the dunes.
Desiderio said he has spoken to some of the neighboring homeowners to assure them that the city “will do what we can” to protect the houses.
“For now, we have to depend on the sand harvesting,” he said in an interview after the Council meeting.
Meanwhile, the city has erected barriers to prevent people from walking on some of the beach pathways in Townsends Inlet and getting too close to the dune drop-offs.
Pathways simply stop in midair where they are supposed to lead to the beach. Dune fencing in the same area has been ripped to shreds. Large chunks of what appears to be seaweed or some other type of brownish vegetation litter the beach, adding to the unusual scenery.
Later this year, Sea Isle will be part of an estimated $30 million federal project to restore the eroded beaches with new sand. Strathmere and the southern part of Ocean City will also have their beaches replenished in the same project.
The contract for that project is expected to be awarded in May or June by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but it is not yet known how much sand will be added, which beaches will be restored and exactly when the work will be done.
George Savastano, Sea Isle’s business administrator, believes the project will get underway sometime after Labor Day. If the works begin after Labor Day, it means that the summer beach crowds will not have to contend with the heavy construction equipment and massive pipes that are typically used for replenishment projects.
Savastano is also an engineer who supervised beach replenishment projects at the Jersey Shore when he formerly worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
He is not sure why the beaches and dunes in the area of 88th to 92nd streets are so vulnerable to erosion.
“It’s what engineers refer to as a hotspot,” he said.
He speculated that it might be a combination of strong wave action created by deep waters just offshore and the dynamics of the nearby Townsends Inlet, a swift-running channel that connects the bay and ocean.
Savastano believes that the beaches in the south end of Sea Isle may eventually become stable over the long term through a succession of replenishment projects. He noted that Ocean City’s far north end beaches once were similarly susceptible to severe erosion before they were built up with the help of replenishment projects.
“I’m hopeful, over time, that after a few cycles of replenishment we’ll start to see some stability,” he said of Sea Isle’s southern tip.