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Russ Napolitano walks at the base of eroded dunes that now have cliff-like walls about 30 to 40 feet high.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

“We have a beach today,” Joe Civitillo said to Russ Napolitano, sounding incredulous that there was actually sand in front of the waterfront Townsend Shoals condominium complex where they each have summer homes.

Napolitano and Civitillo have watched anxiously in recent months as the beach and dunes next to the four-story condo development have been washed away by Townsends Inlet, the swift-moving channel separating Sea Isle City and Avalon.

Large sections of the protective dunes overlooking the diminished beach have been eroded by the inlet, bringing trees and bushes that once stood on top of them crashing down in a heap of branches and now-dead vegetation.

Civitillo and Napolitano have been watching virtually every day while the collapsing dunes get closer and closer to their condo complex in the southern tip of Sea Isle. They have a small beach in front of the condo during low tide for about four hours, but the sand is underwater at other times.

Now, they wonder whether the erosion may eventually pose a threat to the 24-unit building itself, which directly overlooks the beach and inlet.

“It’s very scary,” said Napolitano, who serves as the president of the condo association, while Civitillo is the vice president.

Napolitano appeared at Sea Isle’s City Council meeting on Sept. 28 to appeal to the governing body for help with the dramatic erosion. His appearance followed up on one that Civitillo made in June to also urge city officials to do something to halt the erosion.

Russ Napolitano, left, and Joe Civitillo examine a damaged wooden dune fence next to the Townsend Shoals condominium complex.

City Business Administrator George Savastano said Sea Isle is considering a process known as “sand harvesting” as a short-term solution to the erosion. Sand would be taken from healthy areas of the beach and used to repair the damaged dunes. The city has discussed doing sand harvesting this fall.

The city hopes to work with two government agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to develop a long-term strategy to protect the bay side of Townsends Inlet from erosion.

“There are different theories,” Savastano said of what may be causing the severe erosion this year. “Inlets are pretty dynamic and there’s often changes to the beach adjacent to inlets.”

In public remarks to Council, both Napolitano and Civitillo said they are used to seeing erosion to the beaches and dunes caused by the dynamic currents of Townsends Inlet, but this year represents a far more serious problem.

“This is something that is really different,” Napolitano said.

Napolitano suspects that a beach replenishment project completed last year on the ocean side of Townsends Inlet may be the cause of the dune erosion on the bayfront. He also believes that a major reconstruction project in 2019 that replaced seven deteriorated spans on the Townsends Inlet Bridge may be a contributing factor.

In addition to the eroded beach, there are cliff-like walls about 30 to 40 feet high that were created when the dunes collapsed or were sheared away by water from the inlet or storms. The severe dune erosion shows no signs of slowing down, Civitillo said.

Townsend Shoals, a 24-unit condominium built in 1992, is perched directly over the water and beach on the bay side of Townsends Inlet.

Napolitano and Civitillo said during a tour of the beach Friday that the condo board plans to have an engineering firm, Gibson Associates, conduct a survey of the eroded dunes to find out if they pose a threat to the building.

“He was concerned with how those dunes are eroding. If they were to come down this far, we aren’t protected,” Napolitano said of the firm’s owner, Mark Gibson.

Gibson Associates already performed an underway survey to check on large, submerged stones and a bulkhead that help protect the condos from the inlet. The survey showed that the stones and bulkhead are staying in position.

There are also large stones and a wooden bulkhead ringing the bottom level of the condo complex. At times, the inlet washes right up to the building and a small ramp that leads to the beach. A wooden dune fence next to the condos was recently damaged by the water.

Townsend Shoals was built in 1992. It is perched directly on the beach on the bay side of the Townsends Inlet Bridge that connects Sea Isle and Avalon. The condos are next door to the Townsends Inlet Waterfront Park, an oasis of green space that features a variety of trees and vegetation.

Yet mature trees and bushes that live on top of the dunes overlooking the inlet have been taking a beating from the erosion. As the dunes have collapsed, some of the trees in the park have toppled over onto the beach below.

“It’s a very concerning problem for the park,” Napolitano said.

Napolitano and Civitillo look at some of the large trees that toppled onto the beach when the dunes collapsed.

City officials are also worried about the fate of the park. The park, despite being just steps from the busy summer beaches, is a tranquil hideaway classified as a maritime forest. It is considered one of Sea Isle’s most significant natural assets.

“We’re definitely concerned about the park,” City Council President Jack Gibson said. “What’s occurring now is very concerning for us.”