Jersey Shore mayors welcome controversial $128M dune contract
As the work to rebuild from Hurricane Sandy continues, a North Jersey firm was awarded a multimillion dollar contract to to repair the beaches and dunes in Ocean County.
Weeks Marine was awarded the contract after a process organized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection to work on 14 miles of the shore stretching from Toms River to Point Pleasant Beach.
Awarding of the contract comes after a long delay that included some ongoing concerns from local residents, while local governing bodies have looked for any signs of progress to be made.
The contract starts at $92 million for the first phase with the total amount of the contract expected to be around $128 million. With 65 percent of the project being paid for by the federal government through the 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, the state will be responsible for 35 percent, which will come from the Shore Protection Fund.
"We are very pleased that this crucial project is moving forward," said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. "When completed, all of New Jersey's coastal communities will be afforded the level of protection that comes with beach and dune systems that meet Army Corps' engineering standards."
Commissioner Martin acknowledged that there have been concerns raised by residents who would be affected by the dune work, but said the administration of Gov. Chris Christie has stayed committed to "its commitment to building a full coastal system of engineered beaches that, in addition to providing protection, are vital to the state's economy and identity."
Some of those objections have come from residents in Bay Head, who, according to a report from the Associated Press, have spent close to $5 million to do their own work to protect their homes from beach erosion and other issues.
"Once again, DEP is pumping more sand on the beach that will wash out during the next storm instead of actually making our cost more resilient," said Bob Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who often criticizes the Christie administration.
The DEP announced that the work will move in 1,000 foot sections starting in the spring, "to minimize impacts on residents and visitors." The first towns to see work done will be the southern part of Mantoloking, Lavallette, Toms River, Seaside Heights and Seaside Park. The remaining work will be done after more easements have been obtained by the state. According to the DEP, 545 easements are needed for the project and nearly 350 had been acquired voluntarily so far. More than 50 easements were gotten through condemnation and eminent domain.
Lavallette Mayor Walter J. LaCicero said he received a call Wednesday morning from the DEP informing him that the contract had been awarded, but that he had not yet been given a direct timeline of when the work would start. LaCicero said the borough was the first of the towns affected to sign off on the project.
Easements are not an issue for Lavallette, as LaCicero said they own the beach under two deeds.
"It's certainly going to bring peace of mind," he said. "One of the biggest issues I've been facing is limited (beach) access."
Prior to Sandy, the mayor said there were 26 access points for people to get on the beach. As a result of the damage and work done to help control the situation, that number dropped to seven.
"People are tired of walking and we want them to have that access," he said.
Toms River Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher still vividly remembers seeing the damage the hurricane caused and is looking forward to seeing the repair work when it is done.
"I'm delighted to know that it's finally going to be a reality," he said. "It's been a while coming."
Kelaher said there have been obstacles to overcome, including some resistant residents, but having the contract awarded is a big step forward to bringing closure to one of the worst times the Jersey shore has ever seen, calling it "an example of perseverance and cooperation between the various organizations involved."
The mayor added that while people may not think of Toms River as a beach town, places like Ortley Beach fall under their umbrella, which makes them a key player in the discussion of beach replenishment.
Looking back at the days after Sandy, the mayor said that while the oceanfront is usually a breathtaking view, seeing where the water had breached its barriers took his breath away in an entirely different way.
"Right then and there I said if I don't do anything else I have to make this a mission to get this accomplished," Kelaher said.
As the process has moved forward, Martin said he and Christie "are grateful to the majority of property owners who voluntarily provided their easements because they recognize that this is the right thing to do for their neighbors and their communities."
Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz said he was excited to see the project moving forward, and was also hopeful that even if the work starts in the spring that it will not interrupt what he hopes will be a successful summer season.
"I'm very happy," he said. "I realize the efforts of the department and Commissioner Martin for pursuing this with all energies over the past several years."
Vaz said it was exciting to think that the borough was "getting to the time now where we can almost see it being constructed."
Vaz added that while the dunes will change the look of the oceanfront in Seaside in many ways, he was optimistic it would be a positive change for those who visit the area throughout the year.
"Once this is done we will have a safeguard. The most beneficial safeguard that is affordable to protect the residents, the community as a whole, and the visitors," he said. "It's going to be different, but with the right education it's going to be a very soothing environment."
The offseason in Seaside Heights has also included work being done to rebuild the popular Casino Pier. Vaz said he has been told by the owners of the pier that they intend to be open by Memorial Day weekend.
Admitting that the work would be an "inconvenience" if it was done during the summer season, Vaz said he hoped to see the work begin in his town after Labor Day.
Lt. Col. Michael Bliss of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called this "one of the largest beach-fill contracts in the history" of the agency.
"The engineered dune and berm system will serve the vital purposes of reducing risk and helping to protect people and property," he said.
The project will include close to 11 million cubic yards of sand with dunes built 22 feet above sea level. The beaches will be built 100 to 300 feet wide, and 8.5 feet above sea level, with replenishment set to be conducted over the course of 50 years.
Kelaher said the fact that there is a long term plan is one of the parts of the plan that appealed most to him.
"Not only is this the job the Army Corps is going to do, but also the deal is they will keep coming back periodically."
Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com