LONGPORT – It appears that a delay in getting equipment to the New Jersey coast might give Margate some relief from dredging on the beach this summer, while pushing back the project to the height of the tourist season in Longport, which supported the pending dunes project from day one.
According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Stephen Rochette, the Atlantic City portion of the Absecon Island Coastal Storm Damage Reduction Project is expected to start Friday with the dredging of sand from the Absecon Inlet borrow site. However, the work in Ventnor, Margate and Longport requires a different type of dredge, a hopper dredge, which the contractor, Weeks Marine Inc., is using to complete a job in Florida. After that it is needed to repair dunes in North Jersey before it can move south for the work in Downbeach.
“The dredges scheduled to do this work have been delayed due to late completion of a Weeks Marine contract in Florida,” Rochette said in an email to The Current of Ventnor, Margate and Longport. “Once the dredges finish that project, they will, at the request of New Jersey, first stop in Ortley Beach in northern Ocean County to accomplish an emergency beachfill placement there, which is estimated to take 10-12 days.”
Weeks Marine, of Cranford, was awarded a $63.3 million contract to build engineered beaches and dunes in Margate, Longport and a section in Ventnor, and replenish beaches in Atlantic City and Ventnor.
The new work schedule, announced Thursday, has work in Atlantic City scheduled to run April 21-July 9. But work won’t start on the rest of Absecon Island until Memorial Day weekend.
According to Rochette, the work will run May 28-Aug. 7 in Longport, Aug. 7-Oct. 16 in Margate, and Oct. 16-Nov. 30 in Ventnor. The previous schedule had the work being completed in Longport by Fourth of July weekend and work in Margate running June 2-Sept. 7.
“We got a lot of our summer back,” Margate Mayor Michael Becker said in a telephone interview Saturday morning. “And I’m not sure if this is the final schedule. We may get even luckier.”
Longport Mayor Nicholas Russo, on the other hand, expressed dismay at the delay.
“We were told four years ago it would be a north to south project. Then, when we had the meeting with the Army Corps, we were told it would start in two locations, Atlantic City and Longport, and meet in the center in Ventnor,” Russo said at the April 6 Board of Commissioners work session.
“My suggestion is, if it is delayed any longer, we ask the Army Corps to go back to their original plan and start in the north, which would get us through the summer.”
Longport Commissioner Dan Lawler expressed frustration with the new schedule.
“We have been cooperative and were the first to come to the plate and should not have to sacrifice our summer,” he said.
Weeks ago, when the original schedule was announced, Margate City Commissioner Maury Blumberg, who vigorously defended Margate’s lawsuit against Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to build sand dunes in Margate as part of a statewide dune system, said the city should consider going back to court to prevent the project from taking place during the summer.
Longport officials signed on to the project in September 2014, citing the need to protect the borough's homes — many of which are valued in the millions. But Margate fought the project, ultimately suing in federal court to stop it. Margate argued that it didn't need dunes because it has a citywide bulkhead system that protects shorefront homes, and that most of the flooding comes from the bayside.
The judge ruled that Margate’s arguments were insufficient to stop the project from proceeding. The city won a partial victory, however, when a court ruled that the state could not acquire easements to build the dunes by administrative order and had to follow eminent domain law to secure the easements.
A group of Margate homeowners later filed suit in Atlantic County Superior Court to stop the project, arguing that stormwater would collect between the dune and the bulkheads, causing ponding that would attract mosquitoes and cause a public health issue. The Army Corps successfully argued that the engineered beach and dune would allow water to percolate into the sand within 24 hours, and the homeowners decided last week not to follow through on an appeal.
“We still have major concerns about drainage, and the judge said they cannot leave us any worse than we are today,” Becker said.
He said the Army Corps may be second-guessing the drainage issue and has suggested the city share in the cost of laying drainage pipes under the dunes.
“We are not paying for anything,” Becker said, nor will the city sign any agreements to renourish the dunes over the next 50 years.
“They told us orally that we don’t have to sign the contract. We have nothing in writing binding us to it. Over the last three years, no one has asked us to sign a contract, and we will not sign one,” Becker said.
The cost of building the dunes is being totally funded by the federal government as part of the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act approved by Congress in 2013 after Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey shore.
While Ventnor will incur no cost to extend its existing dune to the Margate border, it will have to share in the cost of renourishing dunes built across the rest of the city in 2004.
The federal government pays 65 percent of the cost of renourishing dunes built by the Army Corps, with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection picking up 35 percent. Municipalities normally pay 25 percent of the state’s share.
Ventnor’s share of renourishment of the dune from Richards Avenue to Jackson Avenue is 8.75 percent, or $440,917. Ventnor officials said they will pay it with a new bond issue and with money left over from a previous bond.
“The Ventnor project is costing the city more than $400,000 toward replenishment,” Becker said at the April 6 Board of Commissioners meeting. “To all of the people who complained we spent $305,000 in legal fees to fight the dunes, when you count replenishment costs every three years or so for 50 years, we saved our taxpayers a lot of money,” he said.