Moving the sand, beach towns prepare for summer

Trucks and earthmoving equipment on the Avalon beach at 33rd Street are part of the sand-shifting effort.

AVALON, N.J. - It's now the season before the season, when towns along the New Jersey coast ready their beaches for the post-Memorial Day crowds who will be clamoring for a spot on the sand as soon as ambient and ocean-water temperatures soar.

Armed with heavy equipment and detailed plans - that mostly center on moving beach sand that over the winter migrated from one place to another because of shifting tides and ferocious winds - places like this Cape May County beach town send public-works crews and private contractors to the strands to do the work. Other places are completing post-Hurricane Sandy replenishment projects.

Two weeks ago, crews here began using equipment the borough rented to conduct a sand "back-passing" operation to fortify the beaches and dunes for the upcoming tourism season.

The project centers on moving approximately 50,000 cubic yards of sand from beaches in the central part of the town back to the north-end beachfront where the sand had been placed last year during a $6.3 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach-replenishment project.

"This back-passing project is a very cost-effective way to restore the beaches in the north end of our community, which are vulnerable to powerful coastal storms," Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi said. "This project will ensure that we have a protective and recreational beach in advance of hurricane season, and the summer tourism season."

The project includes removing sand that piled up during the winter on the beaches between 32nd and 38th Streets. Workers have been using front-end loaders and other heavy equipment to scrape up the sand from the beaches and return it the borough's north end, where beaches were heavily damaged during a four-day coastal storm in October 2015 and during January's historic storm.

The replaced sand will restore the beach profile designed by the Army Corps to protect the northern crest of the island near Townsends Inlet. The project also includes repairing various dune paths and crossover areas damaged by the storms, Pagliughi said.

While it cost the borough about $57,000 to rent the equipment, officials said they expect to save the town more than a half-million dollars by shifting the sand from one area to the other. The town's public-works employees are performing the operation according to daily tide cycles; work should be completed by Memorial Day weekend.

"Avalon will save a tremendous amount of money courtesy of this work. . . . We will continue to pursue future permitting opportunities to conduct additional back-passing projects that will help extend the protection provided to our community from hydraulic beach fills," Avalon Council President Dick Dean said.

Avalon has participated in an Army Corps beach-management program since 2002. The next major hydraulic beach-fill project - in which sand will be harvested from an offshore site and pumped via hydraulic equipment onto the beachfront - is scheduled for this coming fall and winter.

Two other Cape May County beach towns - Wildwood and North Wildwood - have joined forces to move beach sand from Wildwood's famously fat strands, where it accrues on a continual basis in and around nine storm drain outfall pipes, to storm-narrowed beaches in North Wildwood's Hereford Inlet section, according to Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano.

Troiano said Wildwood has been trying for years to get the Army Corps and the state Department of Environmental Protection to design and fund a plan to upgrade the outfall pipes so that sand does not accumulate within them and require almost-constant pumping.

"We have too much sand, and they don't have enough," Troiano said. "So this plan to beneficial for both towns."

The cost of the project, about $250,000, is being paid entirely by North Wildwood - where there is an immediate need to fatten the strands before summer. The Army Corps currently is working on a larger-scale project for North Wildwood that will cost about $20 million and include wider beaches and a sizable dune system, but it likely won't get started for another year. That project still is in the pre-construction engineering and design phase.

Troiano said the current project, which includes moving 30,000 cubic yards of sand, is saving his town nearly $100,000 for the cost of pumping the outfall pipes and spreading the sand back on its already wide beaches.

Farther up the coast on Long Beach Island, in Ocean County, beaches in Beach Haven and the Holgate section of Long Beach Township, finally are getting their share of a $128 million Army Corps of Engineers project to replenish beaches on the island damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. started the project last spring in Ship Bottom and continued replenishment of other areas of Long Beach Township, but - to the consternation of locals - temporarily ceased operations in January and moved their dredges to work on a project in Georgia.

Now the last segments of the project - which also includes beaches in the Long Beach Island communities of Loveladies, North Beach, and Surf City - are expected to be completed by June, according to Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini.

"Beach replenishment is the number-one need that we have to sustain a beach resort," Mancini said. "People come here wanting and expecting that these beaches will be in top shape. We have to get out there and make sure there are flat places on the sand for the crowds to utilize. It's an incredibly important part of what goes on here every spring."

609-652-8382 jurgo@phillynews.com @JacquelineUrgo