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STONE HARBOR - Federal hydraulic beach replenishment projects on Seven Mile Island have always encompassed the neighboring boroughs of Avalon and Stone Harbor. Not so in 2019.

Stone Harbor Borough Administrator Jill Gougher told the governing body March 19 that the borough had been dropped from the planned Army Corps of Engineers’ project. The replenishment was to take place this fall.

The culprit in the decision was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s interpretation of a statute that it claims forbids the use of federal dollars for borrowing sand from Hereford Inlet.

The last replenishment process was impacted by the Fish and Wildlife position only as the effort was about to begin. The state Department of Environmental Protection stepped in with funds, the borough allocated funds it had not planned on for the project and a unique solution for bringing sand from Townsend’s Inlet to Stone Harbor’s north-end beaches via a long pipe combined to allow the project to continue.

This year, that combination of efforts is not available. The borough has been told that without federal funds able to be used in Hereford Inlet, the project is too expensive. It has also been told that the ability to support the entire Seven Mile Island beachfront with sand from Townsend's Inlet is not a sound use of that borrow area.

Federally-funded replenishment run on cycles of at least three years, so being skipped in 2019 most likely means the borough will not be available for a similar hydraulic nourishment project until the next cycle, and then only if the ban on using Hereford Inlet has reached some resolution.

A recent report to council by Dr. Stewart Farrell of the Coastal Research Center at Stockton University demonstrated that the borough’s beaches are largely as they were after the last replenishment. Yet, regular replenishment of the beaches is a key factor in storm protection for property owners and is of obvious importance to a tourism-dominated economy.

No matter how much or how little this particular replenishment is given the as yet unknown state of the borough’s beaches in the fall, this was a wake-up call for the borough in terms of intensifying its efforts to resolve the situation with Hereford Inlet.

The three communities that joined together to oppose the decision on the Hereford Inlet borrow areas were Avalon, Stone Harbor, and North Wildwood. All are impacted to different degrees by the Fish and Wildlife position. Even without a resolution, Avalon will get its replenishment this year since it largely depends on sand from Townsend's Inlet. North Wildwood is in the midst of a large back-passing operation involving sand relocated from Wildwood Crest and Wildwood. Gougher’s announcement at the council meeting made Stone Harbor sound like the municipality currently on the outside looking in.

Gougher made reference to a possible back-passing project, but her comment at the moment was more a conceptual option than a detailed plan. Back-passing projects require defined borrow areas, state and federal permits, and limits on how much sand can be relocated. They also involve money.

Mayor Judith Davies-Dunhour saw the message in the move to drop the borough from this year’s project. She indicated that the borough would have to take stronger measures to resolve the Fish and Wildlife ban on sand from Hereford Inlet.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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