For five years, we have endured a silly dispute over the use of Hereford Inlet sand for beach replenishment and stabilization in Stone Harbor or over needed seawall work in North Wildwood.
Prior to 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took sand from Hereford Inlet for federally funded beach projects. Suddenly, in 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife argued that the 30-year-old Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) prohibits the harvesting of sand from the inlet for use on beaches that are not part of the Coastal Barrier Resources System.
This 2016 decision came just as a replenishment was about to begin, causing the state and the Borough of Stone Harbor to scramble to find funds for a modified smaller beach fill that was later helped by relief funds because of storm damage to beaches in the county.
Then, in 2019, the same lawyers for Fish and Wildlife again denied any exemption for Hereford Inlet sand, leaving Stone Harbor out of that year’s federal replenishment efforts.
We have had enough of this craziness. There were good reasons behind the 1982 passage of CBRA. The act was intended to prevent harmful development of coast barriers and damage to natural resources within the designated areas.
This is a federal act with a national scope. One expects that the overseers of the act, in this case the Fish and Wildlife Service, would implement the intent of the statute with some sense of the nuance that pertains to local circumstances.
Hereford Inlet sand naturally replenishes itself. The inlet is a repository of sand that has been placed on county beaches in the past.
Annual reports from Stockton University’s Coastal Research Center show that harvesting sand from the inlet has no long-lasting negative impact on the CBRA area sites. Over the years, when sand was borrowed from inlet areas, there was no consequent development of the CBRA area.
Cape May County communities, like Stone Harbor, have engineered beaches, part of a state and, yes, federal program. Without periodic replenishment, portions of those beaches erode and risk damage to a multibillion-dollar economy that sends $150 million a day in taxes to Trenton.
For what purpose are we engaged in this debate? Where is the evidence of harm done by the replenishments that utilized Hereford Inlet sand in the past? Where is the science in this specific case, in this specific area, that shows the need to withhold sand?
The picture is made even more bewildering when one considers that the very same sand can be harvested as long as federal funds and federal assistance are not used. The dangers to the natural environment disappear when state or borough funds are used? The tax dollars we pay that are sent to Washington cannot be used, but the tax dollars we pay that are sent to Trenton can? If there is science here, someone needs to point it out.
A seven-page memorandum stating the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s position, dated July 14, says that, “The legislative history reflects that Congress intended to reduce federal funding of coastal development generally, and shoreline stabilization specifically.”
If that is so, why does Congress appropriate millions of dollars on three-year cycles for beach replenishment projects conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, a federal entity? To argue that Congress is against shoreline stabilization is patently false.
CBRA’s intention is not being subverted in this case. No new development in CBRA areas is following on the heels of beach replenishments. The sand in the inlet naturally replenishes itself. Left to its own natural devices, the sand will reach a point where it impedes navigation.
We have a unique local circumstance, which cries out for reasonable implementation of a law that is national in scope. There are several solutions. U.S. Fish and Wildlife can reasonably see that the needs in Cape May County do not negatively conflict with the CBRA goals. They can grant an exemption for federally sponsored shore replenishments. Barring that, the state of New Jersey can recognize the harm this federal rule is doing to a county that is central to the state’s tourist economy and act to provide the needed funds.
What is not acceptable is to do nothing and continue the harm that serves no purpose. This debate must end. It must end in time for the planned 2022 federal replenishment of our engineered beaches. Nothing else makes sense.
From the Bible: If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. Mark 3:25