Massive project underway to build Bay beaches

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Heavy equipment places sand along the beach at Pierces Point. Heavy equipment places sand along the beach at Pierces Point. MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – The rumble and squeal of heavy equipment cut the air at Pierces Point Wednesday, April 2, as work continued on a $1.6 million restoration project on five southern New Jersey beaches on the Delaware Bay critical to horseshoe crabs.

The $1.65 million federally funded project, referred to as Phase 2 of the Horseshoe Crab Beach Restoration Project, is expected to finish work begun last year, after Hurricane Sandy devastated the beaches in late 2012.

“This project will make the beaches more resilient,” said Tylar Greene, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The beaches serve as buffers for homes, and hopefully this work could make the damage less severe in the event of another storm like Sandy.”

Al Modjeski, Habitat Restoration Program Director for American Littoral Society, said that restoring the beach to pre-Sandy profiles reduces the risk of flooding during a storm.

“Beaches absorb the energy of the storm,” he said.

Larry Niles, a wildlife biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, said that restoring the beaches damaged by Sandy in 2012 is not only critical to the spawning area of the horseshoe crabs, but to the people who live along Pierces Point, Kimbles, Cooks, Reeds, and Moores beaches along the bay.

“To protect the people, we need to protect the ecology,” Niles said. “The needs of the people, the beach, the marsh, the crabs and the red knots are all wrapped together.”

Niles said the restoration is critical to the crabs and the shorebirds, but will also make the beach more resilient.

“That protects people,” he said.

Work started on Kimbles Beach last week, Modjeski said, and continued on Wednesday at Pierces Point.

“We’re placing a coarse-grained sand on the beaches that’s preferred by the horseshoe crab,” he said.

Modjeski said the heavier sand has the added benefit of being harder to erode, but that the primary benefit was to the crab.

“The heavier sand helps them to spawn and breed,” he said.

Modjeski said that about 45,500 tons of dry sand will be placed along the beaches.

Sand for the beaches comes from a gravel pit at Cape Mining and Recycling. Phil “JR” Heun Jr., of H4 Enterprises, said that his company will install 25,000 tons of sand along the four beaches in Cape May County.

“That's 1,000 truckloads,” Heun said.

A separate company has been contracted for the restoration work on Moores Beach in Cumberland County.

Middle Township Committeeman Dan Lockwood stood on the beach at Pierces Point and surveyed the work going on around him.

“I see a glimpse of hope for the Delaware Bay,” Lockwood said. “This is an important beach in Middle Township, and all of New Jersey.

“There was significant damage from Sandy,” he said. “And now we're making progress on the restoration of the beaches.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department will pay $1.65 million to fund the project, Modjeski said.

The American Littoral Society is directing the beach replenishment, and the society is working on a tight deadline. Modjeski said that by state permit, the work can continue through April 15, in advance of the horseshoe crab spawn.

Niles, however, has observers on the beaches, watching for signs of horseshoe crabs. If the spawn is late, the restoration can continue.

“We have to be done before the horseshoe crabs come,” Modjeski said. “Last year, we were able to work until May 7. We hope to be done by then.”

With good weather, the society plans to finish before the crabs reach the beaches

In late 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed more than 70 percent of the horseshoe breeding habitat. In early 2013, environmental groups, including the Littoral Society, replaced about 40,000 tons of sand on the beaches in advance of the horseshoe crab spawning season.

Larry Niles draws a diagram in the sand Kimbles Beach, to emphasize the change along beaches in the Delaware Bay. Larry Niles draws a diagram in the sand Kimbles Beach, to emphasize the change along beaches in the Delaware Bay.

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