By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
It looks like an avalanche. But in this case, it’s not snow, but sand.
A large section of the dunes near the Townsends Inlet Bridge has collapsed, causing sand, rocks and even some trees to cascade down onto the beach below.
Sea Isle City has erected a fence and warning signs to temporarily close part of the beach off 94th Street to public access. However, some people ignored the fence Saturday and ventured onto the beach despite large rocks and other debris littering the ground.
“It’s a mess. They should clear it away,” said Jonathan Barrera, of Philadelphia, who was fishing in the closed area with his 8-year-old brother, Marlon.
The collapsed dune on the bay side of the bridge is in the same area where a pathway once allowed people to walk down to the beach from a pavilion and boardwalk in Townsends Inlet Waterfront Park.
Now, much of the sand dune has either been washed away or simply collapsed, leaving a steep drop-off from the pathway to the beach that appears more than 20 feet high in some places.
Some trees are standing precariously on the edge of the collapsed dune, while others have tumbled onto the beach below along with large branches.
“It just caved in. It’s a shame,” said Blackwood, N.J. resident Jeff Lomanno, who was visiting Sea Isle with his family Saturday for a beach trip.
Lomanno and his family were on the beach closer to the Townsends Inlet Bridge, in an area where the public is still allowed.
In late April, work crews from Sea Isle’s Public Works Department cleared away excess sand from another pathway that leads from the parking lot at Townsends Inlet Waterfront Park to the beach.
City spokeswoman Katherine Custer said in a text Sunday that she wasn’t immediately aware of any plans by Sea Isle to repair and reopen the closed section of beach.
The same beach was one of two areas that were radically altered in April by the powerful waters of Townsends Inlet, the channel that separates Sea Isle and Avalon.
Part of the beach on the Sea Isle side of the Townsends Inlet Bridge was stripped of the top layer of powdery sand, leaving thousands of clam shells in its place. Since then, some of the sand has returned to cover up the clam shells.
The remnants of the beach, in turn, have formed a massive sandbar that extends far into Townsends Inlet on the ocean side of the bridge. The sandbar has created a makeshift beach for sunbathers and anglers to enjoy.
Although the sandbar extends into the inlet, it does not block boat traffic heading through the channel under the bridge.
This is not the first time that the beach on the Sea Isle side of the bridge has been abruptly reshaped by Townsends Inlet. Last summer, a large section of the beach south of 94th Street collapsed like a mini avalanche and was gobbled up by the water.
It is not clear whether a beach replenishment project may have had any role in the creation of the new sandbar. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency, supervised the beach project in partnership with Sea Isle.
Last summer, Sea Isle’s beaches were widened and replenished with more than 750,000 cubic yards of new sand between 28th and 52nd streets in the midsection of town and from 74th to 93rd streets in Townsends Inlet at the southern tip of the island.
Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said in April that the agency has no immediate plans to try to remove or reduce the size of the sandbar.
Ultimately, Sea Isle may simply have to wait until the beach is naturally returned to its former condition and the sandbar disappears, officials say.