SURF CITY, N.J. (AP) A government project to save the coastline has homeowners on Long Beach Island fretting that strangers may soon walk on their sand. Meanwhile, surfers are casting a wary eye offshore, worrying their waves will suffer.
As officials on Oct. 18 kicked off the first phase of a $71 million project to replenish 18 mi. (29 km) of sand on Long Beach Island, they’re learning that life is far from a beach.
Nearly 15 years in the making, there’s still vast disagreement among the people the project will affect. Backers say it will help oceanfront homeowners, but many of them are opposed, including some involved in a lawsuit over the project. Beachgoers are supposed to benefit too, but surfers say it would be a bummer for their waves.
Starting in about a month, a dredging machine will scrape sand from the bottom of the ocean and pump it onto the beach and dunes. Crews already are doing preparatory work on the beach.
Supporters hope to have the operation completed eventually along the length of the barrier island where huge oceanside mansions and humble old-style homes sit side by side, and where beachgoers from around New York City mix in diners, surf shops and mini-golf courses with those from the Philadelphia area.
This fall work is scheduled only for one 15-block stretch of Surf City. It’s scheduled to take about a month and cost $5.8 million – nearly two-thirds of it from the federal government.
The project is designed to make the beach wider and the dunes between the waves and the homes an average of 3-ft. (.9 m) taller.
“Without the dunes, we’ll go the same way as New Orleans,” said Tom Stewart, the mayor of Beach Haven, one of the towns in line for future replenishment. “Those dunes are our dikes and we need to maintain them.”
While it sounds simple, there’s plenty of dissent.
State officials have been asking the people who own oceanfront property to sign easements to allow sand to be poured onto their dunes. In some parts of the island, they also want to allow public access to the publicly owned beach.
But some have bristled at the notion of signing those agreements.
Recently, the state filed a lawsuit against owners of five properties in Surf City, claiming they are hindering an important erosion-control project. Unless they agree to allow the access, the suit contends, some of the federal money could disappear.
The suit also says owners of properties in some neighboring areas who had not allowed easements by Oct. 18 could be added to the lawsuit.
Two of them are Dot and Ted Jedziniak, who have some oceanfront property on a former motel site in Ship Bottom.
They said they are not opposed to replenishing the beach, but will not allow the easement because they do not like giving the government permanent access to their dunes. They fear they could be held liable for accidents or injuries that occur on their dunes and fear that someone could one day build a boardwalk on their land – and there would be no way to stop it.
“A land grab is what we face,” said Ted Jedziniak, 80.
Keith Watson, who is overseeing the replenishment for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said there will not be a boardwalk.
The Jedziniaks on Oct. 18 joined a handful of other protesters as five Long Beach Island mayors gathered with state and federal officials for a ceremonial groundbreaking.
The protesters were headed by surfers who worry that the island’s waves will suffer.
Rick Anastasi, who owns a surf shop on the island, said that currently, sandbars break the waves before they hit the beach. That, he said, makes things prime for surfers and for casual swimmers closer to the beach. When the sandbars are dredged, that Shangri-La will be lost, he said.
Dave Rosenblatt, himself a surfer and an administrator for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the dredging will scoop up the sandbars.
“Everybody likes an offshore break,” he said. “And they will get an offshore break again once there’s beach stabilization.”
He said it will probably take between three and six months for the sand to shift enough for that to happen.