Federal Objections Overcome, Beachfill Projects Can Proceed in 3 Municipalities

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt hosts a meeting in his office to discuss the CBRA issue.  From left, Stone Harbor Business Administrator Jill Gougher, Avalon Assistant Business Administrator James Waldron, Avalon Business Administrator Scott Wahl, Bernhardt, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello, North Wildwood Business Administrator Ron Simone.  

WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep Jeff Van Drew (D-2nd) announced a fix to a 2016 objection from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that made it cost-prohibitive for local towns to conduct a beach renourishment project that protects life and property from flood and coastal storm damage. 

 

According to a release, the project impacts Avalon, Stone Harbor, and North Wildwood. The 2016 objection by the service, a sudden and unexpected reversal of policy, had stalled the renourishment project, leaving residents vulnerable, due to the expected cost increase of over $6.5 million. 

 

This fix to the erroneous 2016 service objection is the culmination of Van Drew’s efforts throughout the year to remediate this situation.

 

“The goals of the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) are worthy goals, but in the case of the “Stone Harbor Project,” CBRA was creating unnecessary red tape that was having the opposite effect of its original intent,” stated Van Drew. “This decision by Sec. Bernhardt proves that we can still come together in a bipartisan fashion and seek common-sense solutions to improve the lives of Americans.” 

 

The CBRA was passed in 1982 to prohibit federal financial assistance for development on coastal barriers with the goals to minimize the loss of life and property, reduce wasteful expenditures and protect our natural resources. In 1996, however, the service granted an exception to the U.S. Army Corps to use sand from a borrow area located at Hereford Inlet in Coastal Barrier Resources System Unit NJ-09 for a flood and coastal storm damage reduction project called the New Jersey Shore Protection, Townsend's Inlet to Cape May Inlet. 

 

This project not only protects the coastline from storm damage, but it created more than one mile of critical habitat at Stone Harbor Point for a variety of migratory birds. 

 

Over the years, this borrow site has been used to renourish the Stone Harbor coastline three times.

 

“The Trump Administration is committed to protecting our coastlines and utilizing our available resources to restore, enhance or stabilize our beaches consistent with the law Congress wrote,” stated U.S Secretary David Bernhardt.  “Today’s notification clarified our understanding of the crystal clear direction provided by Congress decades ago.”

 

“Thanks to the efforts of all three communities, as well as our congressman, we finally have a permanent, common-sense solution to this matter,” stated Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi. “Sec. Bernhardt came to the meeting with a full understanding of our issue and was quick to point out that the federal statute has exceptions that apply to Hereford Inlet. Avalon is grateful that the sand supply in the Inlet can be used for protection of our sister communities, Stone Harbor and North Wildwood, while Townsend’s Inlet remains as a sand supply for Avalon’s beaches.”

 

“This relief provided by Sec. Bernhardt effectuated by our meetings with Congressman Van Drew is exactly what our three communities have been seeking for years,” stated Stone Harbor Mayor Judy Davies-Dunhour. “Stone Harbor Point is now an ecological asset, created only by previous beach fill efforts. Now we can continue to preserve the Point as an ecological treasure while at the same time using sand in the Inlet for the protection of our communities for many years to come.”

 

“North Wildwood can no longer be neglected for essential beach restoration projects thanks to the efforts of our three communities, our Congressman, and Secretary Bernhardt,” stated North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello. “This is a perfect example of government working together on all levels to eliminate an interpretation of a federal statute that has always provided the relief that our communities have been seeking for many years.”

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The following is a joint statement by Avalon, Stone Harbor, and North Wildwood:

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt issued an administrative directive Nov. 4 that permits the use of non-emergency federal funds for periodic beach nourishment projects, particularly in Stone Harbor and North Wildwood. The directive follows a meeting hosted by Secretary Bernhardt at the Department of Interior Oct. 21 scheduled by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-2nd) and attended by representatives of Avalon, Stone Harbor, and North Wildwood. 

This directive reverses a recent position by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service that prevented the sand that has accumulated in the Inlet from prior beach fills to be used for protective measures against future storm events.

“We collectively appreciate the Congressman’s efforts with arranging this meeting and appreciate Secretary Bernhardt’s reversal of Fish and Wildlife’s blatant disregard for the language included in the statute in the Coastal Barriers Resources Act,” stated Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi.  “Some individuals at Fish and Wildlife ignored language in a federal law and put coastal communities at unnecessary risk despite agreement from federal, state, municipal and environmental interests that they were dead wrong in their position.  We simply will not get rolled by individuals with specific agendas and will continue to make best decisions based on science, and not egos.”

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act regulates certain offshore units in the United States where any combination of local, state, or emergency federal dollars may be used to remove sand to restore eroded beachfronts.  The Act prohibits the use of non-emergency federal dollars unless certain exceptions are met, including the stabilization of an existing shoreline and/or to protect environmental assets.  The municipalities presented voluminous evidence to the Secretary that exceptions are clearly met and were willfully ignored by Fish and Wildlife.  The Department of Interior supported the use of these same exemptions in a letter dated Dec. 24, 1996, and three subsequent non-emergency beach fills used sand from Hereford Inlet since that letter.  However, Fish and Wildlife reversed its own position two years ago.

“The inexplicable overreach by Fish and Wildlife prevents North Wildwood from being included in the Townsend’s Inlet to Cape May project and has resulted in our coastline being extremely vulnerable to coastal storm events,” stated North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello. “Sec. Bernhardt was sympathetic to our issue and went so far as to apologize to our group for having to make the trip to Washington, DC to state our position, which he has affirmed in his directive."

 Stone Harbor was not included in a hydraulic beach fill project this fall despite being included in the Townsend’s Inlet to Cape May project in part because Fish and Wildlife refused to allow some of the five million plus cubic yards of sand clogging Hereford Inlet from prior beach fills to be placed back on the beaches. 

“Fish and Wildlife not only ignored the federal statute, but also ignored clear evidence that there have been vast environmental improvements at Stone Harbor Point created only from sand from prior beach fill projects,” stated Stone Harbor Mayor Judy Davies-Dunhour.  “This directive by the secretary will ensure that critical environmental habitats are protected, and continue to thrive, on beaches in both Stone Harbor and North Wildwood.”

During the last hydraulic beach fill project in 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the boroughs of Stone Harbor and Avalon had to create a unique agreement that pumped sand from Townsend’s Inlet, north of Avalon, south to the Stone Harbor beaches at an additional expense of over $6 million. 

This action needed to be taken despite millions of cubic yards of sand sitting in Hereford Inlet from prior beach fill projects.

The meeting with Secretary Bernhardt was established by Congressman Van Drew, who met with officials from all three communities Oct.11.  Representatives from Fish and Wildlife were invited to that meeting to discuss a solution, but they did not attend.

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