NORTH WILDWOOD — After a very public fight over the construction of dunes in the downbeach part of Absecon Island, the Army Corps of Engineers is turning its attention south, planning a major dune project that will help protect eroding beaches in North Wildwood with sand from Wildwood and Wildwood Crest.
North Wildwood used to have the largest beach in the state but lost about 1,000 feet of beach in the past decade. Now, the roads, Boardwalk and homes are threatened with every major storm.
The Army Corps, however, has a plan to take as much as 500 feet of beach from Wildwood and Wildwood Crest and use the sand to build a dune system for the entire island.
The Army Corps hopes to have the project done by 2019.
“We’re concerned about protecting JFK Boulevard and the homes behind it,” North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said. “The project can’t start soon enough ... but there is a lot of work that goes into it when you’re dealing with several different local governments.”
Rosenello added North Wildwood will spend more than $2 million soon to extend the seawall another few blocks around Second Avenue, where the eroding beach becomes a nearly 20-foot cliff after a major storm. The city also will move the outfall pipe in that area, Rosenello said.
“This is all very cyclical. ... We had a large beach (around Second Avenue) for many years,” Rosenello said, adding pictures in the city’s archives show the cycle of growing and shrinking beaches over the past 100 years.
“These projects are a Band-Aid to get us through this cycle,” he said.
The Army Corps plan would build dunes throughout North Wildwood, Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and Lower Township. Wildwood Crest already has dunes, but they are not up to Army Corps standards because they have gaps for people to walk through, Army Corps spokesman Steve Rochette said. The new dunes will require people to walk over them.
North Wildwood built dunes that meet Army Corps standards more than 10 years ago, and this project will reinforce them, Rosenello said.
The construction means beaches in Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, among the largest in South Jersey, could be significantly reduced in size.
Initially, the Army Corps wanted to take 900 to 1,000 feet from Wildwood’s beach to build the dunes and help North Wildwood, Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano said. The total length of the beach in Wildwood varies from 1,500 to 1,900 feet.
Troiano, in conjunction with Chris Constantino of the state Department of Environmental Protection, helped change the project so only 400 to 500 feet of beach are taken away.
“I’m not trying to be a bad neighbor (to North Wildwood), but the plan to take that much beach from us was unacceptable,” Troiano said. “We’ve learned to use our beaches as an economic tool with a lot of different events.”
The dunes will now be 200 feet from the boardwalk with about 1,100 feet of beach between dunes and ocean, he said.
Troiano said he is frustrated with the overall plan because Wildwood’s flooding during major storms comes from the bay, not the ocean.
“I understand what they are trying to do, but the real problem here is the back bay, not the ocean,” he said. “If we get a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane here, we’ll get wiped out, dunes or no dunes.”
Still, Troiano said, the city is considering raising the beach behind where the dunes will be, to avoid pooling water such as Margate experienced after its dunes were built.
“It’s still early and there isn’t a set timeline, but I’d like it if we could raise the beach, it’s three steps down from the boardwalk instead of seven or eight,” he said. “It will also make it easier for people to walk over the dunes.”