Residents share concerns of Wildwoods' dune project

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Chris Constantino with the NJDEP gives a presentation on the Army Corps of Engineers dune project in the Wildwoods. Chris Constantino with the NJDEP gives a presentation on the Army Corps of Engineers dune project in the Wildwoods.
NORTH WILDWOOD—Residents on Five Mile Island are skeptical of a multimillion-dollar Army Corp of Engineers shore protection project, and several raised questions and concerns during a public hearing Friday afternoon.

Many were concerned about the project’s ability to withstand future storms, and wondered if there was a more suitable long-term solution to eroding beaches in North Wildwood and sand accretion in Wildwood and Wildwood Crest.

There were also questions about how the project could impact tourism, access to the beaches, and whether dredging Hereford Inlet could be a better option.

“It doesn’t seem like this exact project is going to solve our problem,” Sandra Mollica  of Wildwood Crest said.

The $22 million project calls for building a dune that is 16 feet above sea level from North Wildwood to Lower Township, as well as creating a 75-foot beach berm that would be 6.5 feet above sea level.

On Friday, officials from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Army Corps of Engineers said they are considering adding a similar berm in Wildwood Crest and Wildwood as part of the project also.

The berm and dune would be constructed by taking the beaches in Wildwood and Wildwood Crest back about 200 to 250 feet back from the current shoreline, and back passing sand from beaches in those municipalities in North Wildwood.

The project also calls for a renourishment in North Wildwood every four years, using sand from Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, for the next 50 years. That aspect of the project is set to cost about $59 million.

The initial project will be split between the federal government, state government, and local municipalities. The federal government will pay for 65 percent of the project, and the state will handle the other 35 percent. Of that 35 percent, 75 percent of that cost will be the burden of the state, with the other 25 percent being split between the municipalities for work completed in their respective areas, the officials said.

Chris Constantino with the DEP told the public Friday that the Corps and department would be building the project into the beach’s “existing footprint.” For example, the dunes in the Wildwoods are currently at about 14 feet elevation above sea level, so the project will add almost 2 feet to the existing dune.

He also stressed that the DEP and Corps were interested in the public’s comments and they would be taken into consideration before the study moved forward.

“We’re not here to force anything down anybody’s throat,” he said.

The presenters also added that the character of the Wildwoods and its tourism economy were taken into developing the potential project. For example, the Corps has included about 20 feet of space between the dune and boardwalk to accommodate servicing under the boardwalk.

“We took the character of the town into consideration,” Constantino told the public. “We want to be able to provide you with protection, but we also didn’t want to impact you negatively.”

Brian Bogle, who is the Army Corps of Engineers project manager on the study, also said that if Wildwood or Wildwood Crest officials made clear they were not interested in the project, the Corps would begin looking into finding a new sand borrow site to provide more protection in North Wildwood.

However, the timeline to create a new study would be years in the making, and funds available from Hurricane Sandy may not be available if the municipalities do not act now, he said.

“If we were to do North Wildwood only, we would probably to evaluate different borrow sources for the currently proposed project,” Bogle said.

Dredging in Hereford Inlet, Bogle said, is unlikely. He said there are protected species of shore birds and ecosystems that have developed in the channel, and other federal agencies now prohibit the Corps from maintaining that area, as a natural habitat has formed there.

The public comment period has been extended to March 10. After that time, the Corps will review the project and is looking to have the study approved by September. Then, there will be a year of engineering and design, with constructing beginning in 2016.

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