NORTH WILDWOOD, N.J. (AP) — When the remnants of Hurricane Ian passed by the Jersey Shore earlier this month, chewing huge chunks out of protective sand dunes, North Wildwood asked New Jersey environmental officials for permission to do an emergency reconstruction of the sand piles.
The state said no.
The city did it anyway. And it plans to build a sea wall near the beach, something else the state rejected.
Now, North Wildwood could face fines from the state in a tussle that seems likely to end up in court. But Mayor Patrick Rosenello says he can sleep better knowing that his city’s people and property are better protected from future storms.
“There is no option under which we don’t protect our community,” he said. “That is just not on the table. We will do what we need to do to protect ourselves.”
Disputes between states and cities are not uncommon, and fines are not unheard of. But they are rare when it comes to the topic of beach protection, on which states and local communities are usually willing partners.
Due to the way the storm rotated, Superstorm Sandy caused comparatively less damage in the Wildwoods area than it did farther north in 2012. But ongoing erosion remains a concern in North Wildwood, whose beaches are somewhat narrower than those of Wildwood, its next door neighbor.
The Department of Environmental Protection on Oct. 7 allowed the city only to place concrete “Jersey barriers” along the dunes as a temporary protective measure, and expressly forbade it from touching the dunes without a detailed review and approval of proper plans and permits. The state determined that there was not an imminent threat to lives or property from the eroded dunes, and said construction of a sea wall in that spot is likely to further erode the beach in the long run.
North Wildwood disagreed, and last week it sent bulldozers onto the beach to push huge piles of sand back where they had been, in defiance of the state’s directive.
The mayor said there was a sheer 15-foot drop-off from the top of the eroded dune to the beach below, creating an imminent hazard to the public. And another storm was highly likely to breach the dune altogether, flooding homes and motels nearby.
Rosenello also said the city has ordered supplies for the planned sea wall, which could arrive by the end of November.
“It’s not a matter of if this dune is going to collapse again or be washed away, it’s a question of when,” he said.
While most of the Jersey Shore’s 127-mile coastline got replenished beaches in the years after Sandy hit, North Wildwood has not, Rosenello said. The city is part of a proposed multi-town beach project also involving Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and Lower Township.
But numerous legal and real estate agreements must be executed before that can happen, and it will be at least fall of 2024 before that project can begin, the state estimated in August.
In the meantime, North Wildwood spends millions of dollars each year to truck tons of sand from beaches in neighboring Wildwood, home to some of New Jersey’s widest beaches. The most recent bill was $3.8 million, and the city has spent in excess of $20 million on trucked-in sand over the past decade, the mayor said.
In a letter to Rosenello, the state also noted that North Wildwood continues to flout its 2020 order to restore the destruction of 12 acres of mature, vegetated dunes that were removed for a different unauthorized sea wall project.
Rosenello defended the 2020 sea wall, saying it has prevented flooding and property damage,
“Let me see if I can say this nicely: You would have to be cognitively challenged to look at that sea wall and think it’s not needed and working,” he said. “The ocean pounds against it every high tide.”
Photo: Mayor Patrick Rosenello stands atop a recently repaired dune in North Wildwood, N.J., on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. The town used bulldozers to push sand back into piles to repair severe erosion from recent storms, despite a directive from state environmental officials not to do the work until the proper studies and planning took place. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
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