The start date for a long-planned beach replenishment project in northern Ocean County has been pushed back to summer or fall, and local leaders have expressed concern that the work could begin in the heart of the tourist season.
Bids for the project — which has an estimated $60 million cost — were opened late last week, and Stephen Rochette, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philadelphia district, said he expects the corps to have an update on the project this week.
“It is possible work may begin this summer or it could begin in the fall,” Rochette said.
Barrier island mayors had hoped the project would start last fall, so that beach work could be finished before summer. Beach replenishment during the hectic summer season could discourage people from visiting oceanfront towns or renting property there, local leaders said.
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At the same time, in areas like Toms River’s Ortley Beach and portions of Bay Head and Mantoloking, beach repairs are sorely needed, officials said.
“It’s going to be difficult summer,” Toms River Mayor Maurice B. “Mo” Hill Jr. said. Toms River’s oceanfront Ortley Beach section has suffered from severe erosion repeatedly since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a massive beach replenishment project in northern Ocean in 2019.
Ortley Beach, once the site of an inlet that was closed during a severe early 19th-century storm, has battled erosion issues for years. Since the Army Corps project was completed in 2019, Toms River has paid more than $700,000 to truck in sand and make repairs in the area after nor’easters in 2021 and 2022 carved huge gashes into the dune line.
While the dune line has been damaged several times, there have been no breaches in Ortley or other parts of the northern Ocean barrier island, which could have allowed ocean water to reach homes and businesses.
Hill said it’s likely Toms River will have to spend more money to bring in sand to shore up beaches in Ortley after fall and winter storms damaged fencing and carved into the dune line, leaving 6- to 8-foot drops to the beach in several places. Dune walkovers, which allow access to the beach, were also damaged and must be replaced.
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Bay Head Mayor Bill Curtis said he hopes the beach work will not start until after Labor Day. “I definitely hope it will be after Labor Day, and not during the summer,” Curtis said.
Bay Head’s dune line and beaches have been eroded in the northern end of town, where Curtis said beachgoers would find “slim pickings” this summer if they are seeking a spot on the sand. The southern end of town has wider beaches and should be fine for summer if beach repairs don’t happen until September, he said.
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The Army Corps is returning to northern Ocean County beaches for the first time since 2019, when a $129 million project to build dunes and expand beaches in the area was completed.
As part of that project, the corps agreed to return to the area to make repairs for 50 years on a regular basis, and on an emergent basis after severe storms. Many oceanfront areas of northern Ocean County suffered severe damage from 2012’s superstorm Sandy; in Ortley Beach more than 200 homes were washed away, and in Mantoloking almost every property in town suffered at least some damage.
About $30 million in funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill has been set aside to pay for the new project; Ocean County’s Board of Commissioners has agreed to cover the $7.55 million that local municipalities were expected to contribute, and the state is expected to cover the rest of the cost.
Lavallette Mayor Walter LaCicero said “It is possible that they could be here in the summertime.” But LaCicero added that he’s “optimistic” that the work will not take place until fall.
Rochette said Army Corps contracts are typically awarded about a month after a winning bid is made, and then the corps will have a better sense of the construction schedule. The timeframe is heavily dependent on the type of dredging equipment the contractor plans to use to complete the project, Rochette said, and when the machinery can be brought to the northern Ocean area.
Rochette said that the corps will also have a better idea of when each town can expect work to start.
Jean Mikle covers Toms River and several other Ocean County towns, and has been writing about local government and politics at the Jersey Shore for nearly 38 years. She’s also passionate about the Shore’s storied music scene. Contact her: @jeanmikle, [email protected].