A $150 million project to replenish beaches and build engineered dunes up and down Ocean County’s northern barrier island went out to bid this week, officials announced Thursday, with work expected to begin by spring.
The project, long held up by the refusal of some oceanfront homeowners to sign easements allowing the dunes to be built on privately-owned sand, will move forward nearly four years after Superstorm Sandy ripped a hole in the island at Mantoloking and devastated Ortley Beach and other communities.
The project was announced by federal, state and local officials at the Ocean Beach firehouse in Toms River’s North Beach section.
According to Stephen Rochette, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District, the bids will be opened Oct. 26, with an award to follow in the “early winter” time period. Depending on the availability of dredge equipment, work is expected to begin during the winter season – by spring – and last for 490 days, only a 24 hour, seven day per week basis.
Initially, said state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin, the project will include southern Mantoloking, Brick, all portions of Toms River (including Ortley Beach), Seaside Heights and Seaside Park. Because of ongoing legal issues regarding challenges to easements and eminent domain claims, Point Pleasant Beach, Bay Head, the northern portion of Mantoloking and the South Seaside Park section of Berkeley Township are included as bid options that may be added to the project at a later date.
Lt. Colonel Michael Bliss, commander of the Philadelphia Army Corps district, said the bid specifications do not dictate which island communities will receive dunes and sand first.
“If you are over-specific, you get exactly what you want, but you get it at a very high price,” Bliss explained. “We have an ability to shape [the project], if we divide our areas up, and we have areas that are certainly more vulnerable. Once we get a favorable bid, we intend to work with the contractor to see if it is okay with them to keep the same price, or if we have to put more money into it.”
Likewise, Bliss said, there was no way the project could be designed to avoid specific areas during the summer season, however crews working on the project generally close a single block of beachfront at a time, so beachgoers and vacationers could easily simply use the next street’s sand.
Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher said that after Sandy struck, he made it is his mission to obtain the funding to complete the project. A brigadier general who visited told him, he said, that had beach replenishment been in place before Sandy, the island would never have breached at Mantoloking and thousands of homes would have been saved from flooding.
Bliss said he understands questions as to whether the sand will eventually be lost to future storms, however replenishment is the best way to protect New Jersey’s shoreline.
“We account for the erosion, and we have a long-term commitment for 50 years where we will renourish that,” he said. “When you do the economics, and calculate it out over 50 years, there is no other way to do it that is as economically feasible.”
The project, according to the Army Corps, will include the construction of 22 foot dunes and beaches between 100 and 300 feet long, and eight feet above sea level, depending on the location. The project also includes the planting of dune grass to vegetate the dune, accessible walkovers for beach access, fencing, stabilization mats and vehicle entrances.