By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Shore towns in Cape May County are getting millions of dollars in funding for beach replenishment projects from the newly approved $1.5 trillion federal spending bill.
Ocean City, Avalon and Stone Harbor will benefit from two separate projects to restore their storm-eroded beaches, but it appears Sea Isle City will have to wait until the next round of funding.
Under the spending bill, $17 million will go toward beach restoration from Great Egg Harbor Inlet to Peck’s Beach for Ocean City. The bill also includes $15.5 million for beach restoration from Townsends Inlet to Cape May Inlet to replenish the shorelines of Avalon and Stone Harbor.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that oversees beach replenishment projects, said Sea Isle will not fall under those projects.
Instead, Sea Isle will have to wait for a separate project that goes from Great Egg Harbor Inlet to Townsends Inlet. The Great Egg Harbor Inlet to Townsends Inlet area includes the southern part of Ocean City, Strathmere and Sea Isle. The timing of the next Egg Harbor Inlet to Townsends Inlet project is not yet clear.
Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the two beach replenishment projects for Cape May County that have been approved for federal funding will now move forward. The next step is to develop plans and specifications and then award the beach replenishment contracts to construction companies for the work.
“We don’t have a firm construction timeframe at this point since we are early in the process, but it’s possible construction could take place in fall/winter/spring of 2022-2023, depending on the availability of dredging equipment,” Rochette said in an email.
Beach replenishment projects usually run on three-year cycles — if the money is available from the federal and state government. Traditionally, the federal government pays for 65 percent of the cost, while the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the towns split the remaining 35 percent.
In the summer of 2020, 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.
The Army Corps replenished the beaches on the ocean side of the Townsends Inlet Bridge in 2020. However, the eroded beaches and dunes on the bay side of the bridge were outside the boundaries of the project.
City officials have urged the Army Corps to change the scope of its project to replenish the beach on the bay side of the bridge. So far, the Army Corps has indicated it will not include the bay side of Townsends Inlet for beach restoration.
What the Army Corps plans to do is to share technical data that it gleans from its ongoing surveys of Sea Isle’s shoreline to help the city devise a strategy to protect the beaches and dunes on the bay side of the Townsends Inlet Bridge, the agency said.
Sea Isle used sand that it harvested from healthier beaches to patch up the badly eroded shoreline and dunes on the bay side of the inlet last fall. Naturally occurring sand deposits also helped to restore the beach overlooking Townsends Inlet.
In the meantime, the city is estimating that its next major beach replenishment project will take place in 2024. As part of Sea Isle’s capital plan for 2022 to 2026, the city has proposed spending $2 million in 2024 for beach restoration.
The capital plan, though, represents a broad blueprint for the city’s infrastructure projects and changes from year to year.