NORTH WILDWOOD – The city will make major changes to its beachfront infrastructure in the north end of the island, redesigning and moving an existing bulkhead and adding a seawall on its ocean side, with eventual plans for a dune to cover the storm defense measure, North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said, in an interview.
The project is not directly related to the Notices of Violation (NOV) issued to the city last June (http://bit.ly/3uIy8nB) by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), Rosenello added.
“It's hard to say. It's all so intermingled. So, it would address a part of the violation because we did submit to the DEP for a permit for this, so once they grant the permit, then that's no longer a violation, I believe,” said Rosenello, maintaining this was not a demand of the DEP in negotiations to settle the violations.
However, Neil Yoskin, the borough’s attorney for the NOV matter, said the city applied for after-the-fact permits to keep the bulkhead as is, but the DEP requested the realignment.
“It's exactly as a result of that. What happened was, in response to the NOV, the city submitted an after-the-fact permit application for the bulkhead and the Division of Coastal Engineering got a chance to comment on it and asked for that realignment and the city agreed,” Yoskin said in an interview.
The mayor said he is waiting on a costestimate for the sea wall and bulkhead relocation project, which would be done in partnership with the DEP’s Department of Coastal Engineering and extend the protective rocks that end at Third Avenue down to Seventh Avenue. He estimated it at roughly $9 million, with the DEP taking on the lion’s share, about $6.5 million, leaving the city to pay close to $2.5 million.
The project would also move the bulkhead between Fifth and Seventh avenues, where it has sharp angles, and remove a playground, which sits between the bulkhead and John F. Kennedy Beach Drive, Rosenello said. That playground equipment would be distributed elsewhere, like along the bike path, he added.
The real motivation for the project is the looming installation of a dune and berm the length of the Five Mile Island, according to the mayor.
“What’s really driving this is the design of the Army Corps’ Shore Protection Project and the seawall extension. As we work through that between the city, a couple different branches of the DEP and the Army Corps, you start to see some resolution,” said the mayor.
That project (http://bit.ly/3kDlEsL), which originally was supposed to be completed in 2017, has still not broken ground. Rosenello said it’s been complicated for the Army Corps and DEP to coordinate with four different municipalities and parts of the beach, where there are private property owners, like amusement piers.
“I know they’re slogging through it. I have no good information as to when we can expect the project to begin,” he added.
Yoskin wasn’t confident that the dune will soon become a reality, but added some insight on the complicating factors.
“The problem has been that a project of that scope requires the use of sand, either from offshore borrow areas or from Hereford Inlet, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is opposed to both options,” the lawyer said.
President Joe Biden suspended various agency actions taken by the Trump administration until his administration could review them, in executive orders signed his first day in office. One of those had major implications for the Wildwood dune project, said Yoskin.
A 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruling determined under no circumstance can sand from a coastal barrier resource unit be used outside the unit. However, Trump’s Interior Department overruled that, siding with a prior interpretation of the statute allowing sand to be used outside the barrier resource unit, if it had some benefit within the unit.
Under the former interpretation, sand from Hereford Inlet was used three times to replenish beaches in Stone Harbor, with the understanding some would drift south to Stone Harbor Point, a designated conservation area at Stone Harbor’s southern tip.
Yoskin represents North Wildwood, Stone Harbor and Avalon in an appeal by the Audubon Society of the Trump administration ruling.
The parties agreed to put the litigation on hold 60 days, until Biden’s administration reviews Trump’s interior secretary’s action, Yoskin said, because it would become a moot point if the Biden administration reverses the Trump administration ruling.
The plan is to bury the bulkhead and sea wall with sand, and restore a dune on top of it, but that is not possible without a hydraulic dredge project, said Yoskin.
The sea wall here would be different from what has become a tourist staple in other parts of town, near Hereford Inlet, where a walkway, on top of the rocksis a popular exercise and sight-seeing attraction. This would be more like the sea wall that already sits in front of the bulkhead, north of 3rd Avenue.
“We're going to have one of the most fortified islands in the State of New Jersey. We’re not there yet,” said Rosenello.
Asked whether more planning and not having to take emergency action might have led to this plan originally, instead of installing and then having to redesign a bulkhead after only about five years, Rosenello put the focus on the delays in the state and federally funded projects.
“No, because again, if the Army Corps beach project had been completed, I don't think we'd be extending the bulkhead or the seawall. These things are sort of coming out of the delay in the beach project,” said the mayor.
Yoskin explained the logic behind the strange design and angles of the wall, which troubled the DEP.
“The city engineer did it for a reason. It had to do with the presence of underground infrastructure back there, that had actually been funded by DEP, and for which there is a CAFRA permit. They thought that the alignment was a better alignment, but DEP disagreed. So, do what DEP asks,” he said.
Yoskin added that the city and the DEP continue to work through the other violations, including looking for ways to restore rare freshwater wetlands the DEP contends existedbehind the dunes. He said the DEP has been very helpful in coordinating emergency backpassing projects, evidence of which is the lack of phone calls he’s receiving on the subject.
“I’m not involved in very much. It’s a good thing when the lawyers aren’t involved,” he said.
Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the DEP, did not immediately respond to a request from the Herald for information about the developments in North Wildwood.