Days of a pounding onshore wind and large waves chewed up parts of the Jersey Shore last week.
Cliffs of sand and major beach erosion were reported in six South Jersey shore towns from the four-day nor’easter that hovered in the region Jan. 31 to Feb. 3.
A report from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection classifies the Holgate and Loveladies sections of Long Beach Township, Harvey Cedars, Beach Haven, parts of Atlantic City, parts of North Wildwood and Sea Breeze in Fairfield Township as having major erosion.
Major erosion consists of significant beach berm loss or when dunes transform into cliffs, as the ocean washes away the sand from the base of the dune, according to the report, which did not include the Sunday’s nor’easter. However, that storm lasted only a half day and was not as strong.
In Atlantic City, the inlet jetty through the southern border sustained major sand loss, with up to 140 feet of sloped beach erosion. In Downbeach, Ventnor officials said the storm wreaked havoc on some of their beaches as well.
“Erosion of the dune and loss of the beach is a large kink in the armor that defends the barrier island communities. Without those defenses, we’re basically at the mercy of every tide,” said Mike Cahill, emergency management coordinator and fire chief for Ventnor.
The severe weather left the state’s beaches so battered that New Jersey wants emergency funding from the federal government to fix the damage.
But that money is not likely to materialize.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week’s nor’easter doesn’t appear likely to qualify as the sort of “extraordinary storm event” necessary to free up emergency reconstruction aid.
Shawn LaTourette, acting commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, wrote to the Army Corps on Monday asking for money and technical support to repair the worst-hit areas of the shore.
These include beaches in nine towns that a DEP inspection deemed to have suffered severe erosion.
Another 18 beach towns suffered moderate erosion from the storm, which saw wave heights between 6 to 12 feet.
LaTourette asked the Army Corps to seek funding from Congress if money is not available right away for the beach work, which he wants to see completed by the second quarter of this year.
Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the Army Corps, said the agency is reviewing the request.
Two more winter storms with the potential for additional damage to the shoreline are expected in New Jersey between Wednesday night and Friday. And still another storm is possible Sunday, according to forecasters.
In Cape May County, North Wildwood, no stranger to severe beach erosion, reported major erosion from Second Avenue to the Wildwood border. The city’s sand backpacking operation, where sand is removed from a permitted borrow area, moved to another area and then made level, was impacted as the route to transport the sand was damaged.
The northeast ends of the islands in South Jersey face the most threats of erosion, said Stewart Farrell, director of Stockton University’s Coastal Research Center. Climate change and sea level rise make erosion more likely in nor’easters. From 1979 to 2019, sea level on the Jersey Shore rose an average of 0.2 inches per year, according to the DEP.
While most of the Delaware Bay shores were left with only minor damage, Sea Breeze reported 4-foot cliffs on the beach. In addition, Seabreeze Road, the only road to the shore section of the town, was eroded in spots.
Sea Breeze is an abandoned town, though, its properties bought out by the DEP through the Blue Acres program in recent years, after a storm washed out a bulkhead in 2007. Some environmental groups propose more of the same along the Jersey Shore to mitigate losses from beach erosion and coastal flooding.
“These Army Corps projects are just perpetual work projects. They keep washing out, but the Army Corps keeps on pumping sand. This destroys sea life, turning the ocean floor into a desert. It also changes the angle of flooding, causing beaches to erode faster. Sand that is pumped onto our beaches also gets washed into our bays, making them shallow and causing more flooding,” Jeff Tittle, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said in a statement. “Unless we build dunes appropriately and restore marshes and tidal wetlands, they cannot protect our coast against beach erosion or protect property from storm surge.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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