By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Deb Sweeney grabbed the hand of her husband, Joe, as they took some tentative steps down a steep drop-off at the end of a pathway leading to the beach at 90th Street.
“It’s frightening,” Deb Sweeney said Tuesday morning after the couple had safely inched their way to the beach. “It’s disturbing to know that Mother Nature acts this way sometimes.”
The dune line in Sea Isle City along 88th, 89th, 90th and 91st streets has literally been sheared away by the ocean, leaving cliff-like walls that appear to be at least 10 feet high in some sections. Hurricane Dorian and other recent storms are to blame for eroding parts of Sea Isle’s beaches.
However, the city is about to receive some timely touch-up work on its shoreline thanks to a beach replenishment project starting this fall by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project will also restore eroded beaches in Ocean City and Strathmere.
Sea Isle Business Administrator George Savastano said bids for the project are due Sept. 17. Work is expected to get underway in the fall and continue through the winter and spring.
Savastano said the hope is that the newly replenished beaches will be ready for the arrival of Sea Isle tourists in the bustling summer vacation season.
The project will concentrate on two sections of Sea Isle, the downtown beaches generally running from 28th Street to the streets in the 50s and the south end of town bordered by the streets between the 80s and 90s.
Altogether, 250,000 cubic yards of fresh sand will be deposited in the downtown beaches and another 500,000 cubic yards will cover the south end, Savastano said while giving a report on the project during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Sea Isle continues to benefit from a $40 million beach replenishment project, undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers, that added nearly 3 million cubic yards of new sand in 2015 and 2016.
The project scheduled for this fall is part of a 50-year replenishment program to protect Sea Isle’s beaches from erosion.
The Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protect will split most of the cost. Sea Isle will also help fund the project, but its share won’t be known until the bids are opened and the contract is awarded. In the past, local communities have kicked in 12.5 percent of the cost for beach replenishment projects under a funding formula.
Savastano noted there is a possibility that Sea Isle’s beaches will get even more new sand than currently expected if the Army Corps of Engineers and the DEP determine there is a need in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian’s march up the East Coast last week within 200 miles of the Jersey Shore.
The city also plans to talk to the Army Corps of Engineers and the DEP about the possibility of making the beaches even wider by moving back the dune line in some spots, he said.
The dunes remain healthy and could be shifted westward in some areas without compromising the protection they give to the city, Savastano told City Council.
“We would not diminish our shore protection,” he said.
In an interview after the Council meeting, Savastano said the dunes and beaches generally suffered only minimal erosion through the summer, except for sand washed away during Hurricane Dorian and other recent storms.
“By and large, the beaches are in great shape,” he said.
Some of the beaches in the Townsends Inlet section in the south end of town took a hit from Dorian. In particular, parts of the dune line have been sliced away in a four-block stretch between 88th and 91st streets.
Meanwhile, Deb and Joe Sweeney, the couple who carefully navigated the sharp drop from the pathway to the beach at 90th Street on Tuesday, are eager to see fresh sand added to the south end shoreline.
“This is steep now,” Joe Sweeney said of the eroded dunes. “It wasn’t as bad this summer as it is now.”
The Sweeneys live on 90th Street. Deb Sweeney said she is particularly concerned for the safety of her grandchildren when they come to the 90th Street beach and make their way down the steep pathway.
At one point, the 90th Street beach was much, much wider, Joe Sweeney estimated. On Tuesday, he gazed out on a narrow beachfront, noting that the recent storms had taken a toll.
“It was once like three football fields long to get to the water,” he said. “At least it seemed like three football fields. Now, it’s all gone. It’s a shame.”