By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
A voracious storm with a seemingly insatiable appetite for sand left some of Sea Isle City’s beaches virtually bare in spots and also carved jagged cliffs in the dunes.
In one bizarre scene, the wooden railing for a walkway to the beach at 40th Street was perched on wobbly legs because the sand underneath had been washed away.
Dune fencing along the beach was shredded like confetti. The thick, powdery top layer of sand that provides a natural cushion for beachgoers during the summer vacation season has been swept out to sea, as though Mother Nature used a huge broom.
“This is so sad. We come down here every week, but I’ve never seen it like this,” Stacey Oropeza said of the badly eroded beaches.
Oropeza, who lives in Springfield, Pa., and is visiting Sea Isle for the weekend, peered out at the ocean from behind a wooden barrier that blocked access to the storm-damaged beach at 40th Street. Her sons, Ryan and Roman, stood with her behind the barrier.
Sea Isle and the beaches in other Jersey Shore towns were pummeled by a storm, parked some 200 miles offshore, that unleashed a series of unusually high tides from Wednesday to Saturday morning. The storm also caused a fair amount of street flooding.
Katherine Custer, Sea Isle’s public information officer, said Saturday it was too early to know the full impact of the storm. City officials will be out later to assess the damage.
Custer noted that Sea Isle is fortunate to be one of three Cape May County towns that will be part of a $32.5 million beach replenishment project this fall undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Eroded beaches in Ocean City and Strathmere will also be restored by fresh sand.
There are also options for additional sand as part of the beach replenishment contract. The options could be exercised depending on surveys and the condition of the beaches. The cost of the base contract and all of the contract options is $41.3 million, the Army Corps of Engineers announced last week.
“I imagine they will reassess everything before they start the project,” Custer said of the beach replenishment plans.
In Sea Isle, a total of 760,000 cubic yards of new sand will restore the downtown beaches from about 29th Street to 52nd Street and from around 68th Street to 93rd Street in Townsends Inlet in the south end of the barrier island.
The project is scheduled to get underway this fall and be completed in time for the 2020 summer tourism season. It is part of a 50-year replenishment program to protect Sea Isle’s beaches from erosion.
Sea Isle’s last beach replenishment was a more extensive $40 million project that added nearly 3 million cubic yards of new sand in 2015 and 2016.
Before the storm hit this week, the beaches had been in good condition, City Business Administrator George Savastano said.
“The vast majority of our beach is in very good shape. We’ll be in great shape come next summer,” Savastano said in an interview Tuesday after a City Council meeting.
Even before this week’s storm, beaches and dunes in Townsends Inlet between 88th and 92nd streets had suffered significant erosion. The sand dunes, in particular, have been sheared away by the churning surf, creating cliff-like walls more than 10 feet high.
Some of the downtown beaches bordered by 39th and 42nd streets appear to have experienced serious erosion this week. Yellow caution tape and other barriers have been erected to prevent people from venturing out on beach pathways that have steep drop-offs because the sand has been washed away.
The dune line along some of the downtown beaches also has been badly eroded, creating a cliff-like appearance. Even the wooden dune fencing has been battered – completely torn to bits between 39th and 40th streets.
“I can’t believe what has happened. Even during Hurricane Sandy I didn’t see this type of erosion,” exclaimed Ken McIlvaine as he looked at the depleted beach and dunes at 40th Street on Saturday afternoon.
“There’s certainly been a lot of beach erosion,” added Randy Budd, McIlvaine’s brother-in-law.
McIlvaine, who lives in Woodbury, Gloucester County, and Budd, a Sea Isle resident, were astonished when they stepped out on the beach to use their metal detectors for some treasure hunting.
“What was up there has all been washed out to sea,” McElvaine said, pointing to the damaged dunes.
He said that his mother-in-law, Phyllis Budd, who lives at 40th Street and has been a Sea Isle resident since 1969, told him that she had never seen such a high tide before this week’s storm.
Some, however, took the storm in stride. Mike Monichetti, owner of Mike’s Seafood & Dock Restaurant on Park Road, speculated that Sea Isle’s beach sand has migrated south to neighboring Avalon.
He joked that Sea Isle’s sand has added an extra half-mile to Avalon’s beachfront, which, he humorously suggested, will force Avalon to change its town slogan of “Cooler by a Mile” to “Cooler by a Mile and a Half.”
“I think there’s going to be a need for a major beach replenishment here,” Monichetti said of Sea Isle.