Stone Harbor Beach - File Photo.jpg

Beachgoers pack Stone Harbor beaches on a haze-filled summer day in 2017.

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STONE HARBOR - Christopher Constantino, an environment specialist with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), July 20 addressed Stone Harbor Borough Council about beach replenishment.

The issue has the borough’s attention, as local officials are trying to understand the impact of a recent reversal of policy by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a reversal that reinstates a ban on the use of federal funds or assistance for the harvesting of sand from Hereford Inlet for purposes of replenishing Stone Harbor beaches.

The borough is particularly concerned given the state of some of its southern beaches, below 105th Street, which are already disappearing at some high tides. 

Stone Harbor was dropped from the federally funded beach replenishment, in 2019, because of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s interpretation of a long-standing statute known as the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA). That same interpretation led to a modest replenishment performed on borough beaches, in 2016, when the expense was covered by a combination of state and borough dollars.  

Constantino sympathized with the borough, but admitted that were a replenishment to be authorized today, Stone Harbor would not be able to useinlet sand and might be bypassed yet again.

Stone Harbor is the only Cape May County municipality wholly dependent on harvesting sand from Hereford Inlet for beach nourishments. The borough’s only area of naturally replenished sand lies to the extreme south, in environmentally protected areas. 

While neighboring Avalon has about 7,000 linear feet of beach that requires periodic nourishment, Stone Harbor has 14,200 linear feet, twice the length, according to Constantino. Where Avalon has much of its mid-borough and southern beaches as naturally replenished areas that can support occasional back-passing operations, Stone Harbor has almost no sand it can easily move to stabilize beaches. 

Neighboring North Wildwood has imported sand from Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, a luxury not available to Stone Harbor. 

A Stone Harbor Property Owners Association (SHPOA) spokesperson spoke at the meeting, reminding the council that the association has advocated long-range planning for beach and bay project resiliency, expressing the need for multiyear financial planning that is much more detailed than what the borough currently does. SHPOA promises any help the association can provide.

Constantino spent much of his time reminding borough officials of what was previously done, citing periodic replenishments, as well as emergency beach stabilizations after storms. 

He also pointed to a robust dune network in the borough. In 2019, DEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offered a potential plan to shave sand from the dunes for support of the beaches,which was rejected by borough officials. 

Stone Harbor’s beaches are engineered and consistently require new sand. The question is where will that sand come from if Hereford Inlet remains off-limits? The other question is who pays?

For those questions, Constantino did not have definitive answers. He spoke of the possibility that new state money from the governor could be a possible source of funds. 

He argued that a scientific case can be made to the federal overseers that the sand in the CBRA zone in the inlet replenishes itself and should therefore be available for periodic beach nourishments in this specific case and area of CBRA protection. Neither he nor his agency can make that decision. 

The borough solicitor responded to a question from the mayor by stating that a meeting will be held soon with the borough’s special counsel to evaluate potential legal strategies. 

In the end, sand on the beach is an existential issue for a shore community. The tourist economy and property values depend on it. There may be no alternative for borough officials but long-range planning that takes some of the worst-case scenarios into account.

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

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