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NJ DEP Commissioner Bob Martin announced the state has gone out to bid on the Absecon Island beach and dune project, while Margate Mayor Michael Becker looks on.

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

VENTNOR – Local Downbeach officials Friday morning joined New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin for a press conference held on the boardwalk at Fredericksburg Avenue to announce that the long-awaited dunes project has gone out to bid.

The project was delayed during the City of Margate’s two-year fight to stop the dunes from being built. Local officials said the state’s “one size fits all” dunes plan was not a good fit for their community. However, earlier this year, a Superior Court judge ruled in the state’s favor, and allowed the NJ DEP to acquire the private and public easements needed to build the dunes through the process of eminent domain.

According to U.S. Army Corps Project Manager Keith Watson, the state has taken possession of those easements, which has allowed the project to proceed. The state and Margate have still not agreed to the amount of compensation the city will receive for the 89 easements on public property.

The project includes construction of sand dunes in Longport and Margate, and along an eighth-of-a-mile stretch of beach at the southernmost part of Ventnor. It includes 3.8 million cubic yards of beach fill with a 100-foot wide berm and a dune to elevation 12.75 feet for Ventnor, Margate and Longport, and is expected to cost about $60 million, the commissioner said.

Martin said bids will be accepted on Oct. 4 and the work could begin by early winter.

The project is expected to take 280 days to complete, Watson said, and could be completed by early summer 2017.

It will start with replenishment of the dunes built in 2004 in Atlantic City and Ventnor and then move south to Ventnor, Margate, and lastly in Longport.

“Post-Sandy there has been more than $1 billion put into the coastlines of New Jersey from the federal government’s Sandy appropriations bill, and the Army Corps has led the challenge in getting these beaches done,” Martin said. “While there have been a few delays in getting the project done, today is a major milestone in announcing that the Army Corps is going out to bid for the project. Our goal is to get these beaches built and get the protection put up.”

As Hurricane Hermine was rolling up the coast, Martin said that when built, the sand dunes would bear the brunt of future storms.

“Having these soft structures in place, and hard structures where we can, are the most important things to have in place,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo said there were roadblocks in Washington when the state first put in its request for emergency funding after Sandy.

“When we put this together, we did something that may never happen again, and that is 100 percent federal cost share,” he said. “That’s enormous for a project like this.”

Martin said that under normal circumstances, cost-sharing would have placed a $20 million burden on local taxpayers.

“Tourism is our lifeblood. Without beaches, we don’t have tourists. Without tourists, we don’t have small businesses. Without small businesses, we don’t have jobs. So when my colleagues in Washington say ‘Why should we be worried about giving you money so people can get a suntan?’ I tell them they got it all wrong. It’s about jobs and the economy. It’s about protecting lives and property,” LoBiondo said.

Ventnor Commissioner Lance Landgraf, a planner who worked on the original dunes project in Atlantic City and Ventnor, said he was a proponent of  the dunes project from day one.

“We are thrilled this will finally kick-off and move forward,” he said. “The project will tweak what we have now and complete our dunes.”

 “This has been a very long journey,” Margate Mayor Michael Becker said. “We in Margate have always respected the wishes of our electorate to follow the legal process that was instituted many years ago. Our objective from day one has always been to have a meaningful seat at the table. We are now in serious talks with the DEP and Army Corps. My hope is that these talks are fruitful; they have been so far. As we move forward, I hope the dunes provide the protection we need on this side of the island.”

Longport Commissioner James Leeds said the few dunes that presently exist in Longport protected parts of Longport during Hurricane Sandy.

“Longport’s been on board since the governor declared he was going to build dunes here,” Leeds said. “There were only two or three streets in Longport that did not get any sand or damage during Superstorm Sandy and they were the ones that had the existing dunes. They have proved to me to be a valuable asset.”

Martin said the state is currently investigating backbay flooding issues, and that the state is encouraging beach communities to build up bayfront bulkheads as a short-term fix. Living shorelines and other mechanisms in development will be part of  longterm plans to tackle backbay flooding issues, he said.

“We’re just trying to get through the beach piece of this, then we are all going to have to turn our sights to the backbay side after that.”

In addition to beachfill, the bid specifications include construction or repair of pedestrian, vehicle and handicapped dunes crossovers, planting dune grass, sand fencing, repair or extension of storm water outfalls and drainage structures, and relocation of various structures to accommodate the dunes.

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