By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
It was a beach that had disappeared – then magically reappeared seemingly overnight.
Joe Civitillo could hardly believe it Friday when he walked out on the wide beach that now stretches along the bay side of the Townsends Inlet Bridge. With each step, he left deep footprints in the thick layer of powdery sand.
“This is the widest beach that we’ve had in a year, maybe a year and a half,” Civitillo said while marveling over so much sand in the southernmost tip of Sea Isle City at 94th Street.
Mother Nature and Sea Isle’s Public Works Department have combined forces to replenish the severely eroded shoreline next to the Townsend Shoals condominium complex overlooking the picturesque inlet.
Despite its natural beauty, the deep and powerful Townsends Inlet has also been a destructive force, washing away large sections of the beach and dunes in what had been a relentless assault that left Civitillo and other condo owners at Townsend Shoals worried in recent months.
At one point last spring, the beach had been stripped bare of the top layer of sand, leaving thousands of clam shells in its place.
However, the beach began gradually building back up naturally in recent weeks. Then, the city’s Public Works crews dramatically expanded the beach even more this week through a process known as “sand harvesting.”
Simply put, sand was taken from healthy beaches on the ocean side of the Townsends Inlet Bridge and replaced what was lost on the bay side. Earthmoving equipment was used for the job.
“This will protect the base of the dunes from more erosion and will add more protection in general to the shoreline,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
For months, Sea Isle officials have been discussing possible ways to slow down or stop the erosion. The city is waiting for help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to develop a long-term strategy.
Ultimately, the city hopes to persuade the Army Corps of Engineers to include the bay side of Townsends Inlet in Sea Isle’s next beach replenishment project, Custer said. So far, the agency has restored the beaches on the ocean side of the inlet.
“We’re still hopeful this is an area that will be included the next time,” Custer said of the possibility of the Army Corps adding the bay side in the next round of beach restoration.
Sea Isle is scheduled for its next beach replenishment in 2023, although the timetable may be accelerated to 2022, City Business Administrator George Savastano said in an earlier interview.
In the meantime, sand harvesting will provide a short-term fix to the erosion in Townsends Inlet. The beach has been widened by approximately 50 yards, Civitillo estimated. Just as important, the dunes are being fortified with fresh sand.
The dunes had been badly battered by the inlet. Large sections of the dunes collapsed or were washed away in recent months, creating sharp, cliff-like walls about 30 to 40 feet high. Trees and bushes on top of the dunes have toppled down onto the beach and died.
However, the sand harvesting appears to have reduced the drastic height of the dune walls, Civitillo pointed out. Now, some of the dunes are more contoured to resemble their natural shape.
“The cliffs are not looking as steep as they were,” he said during a tour of the beach Friday. “Instead of it being a cliff now, it is becoming a real dune.”
Civitillo estimated that about 150 feet of the dunes were lost since the erosion began months ago.
Overall, the city expects to harvest a few thousand cubic yards of sand to help replenish the depleted beach and dunes. The Public Works Department is expected to take a couple more weeks to finish the project, Custer said.
“Fortunately, our guys know the beaches well and will be able to do it,” she said of the Public Works crews.
The work follows a meeting that Civitillo and Russ Napolitano had with Savastano and Mayor Leonard Desiderio on Nov. 5 to discuss the eroded beach and dunes. The city later promised to take action to protect the shoreline.
Napolitano and Civitillo, who serve as president and vice president of the Townsend Shoals condo association, respectively, said Desiderio and Savastano fulfilled the city’s promise this week. They thanked the city for the restoring the beach and dunes.
“The conversation that the four of us – myself, Russ, George and the mayor had – turned out to be very positive,” Civitillo said.
For months, Civitillo and others had watched the beach all but disappear. Now, they have a beach that is dramatically wider.
“We watch it every day. It keeps moving toward here,” Civitillo said of the sand building up on the expanded shoreline.