A federal beach replenishment project, now delayed for over a year, will now likely begin “sometime” in 2024, Toms River officials said this week, as residents continue to express frustration over the deterioration of the sand on the beachfront in Ortley Beach.
Toms River Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill said Wednesday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is managing the project, will seek bids for a second time in the fall. The federal agency had previously rejected bids after they came in over budget, then reportedly faced a challenge from one of the bidders. As congressional dollars had been appropriated for the project before the plague of inflation had affected prices, the entire procurement process had to be re-initiated, he said.
“Their figure was way inadequate just for the fuel costs,” said Hill.
The mayor said the latest news he has received from his liaison at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection indicates bids will go out toward the end of the year.
“They are going to go out in the fall, hopefully the bids will be opened and the contract awarded by December,” said Hill. ” In that case the project would start sometime in 2024.”
Ortley Dunes Get Special Attention
Shorebeat, through a series of interviews with local and federal officials, has published a number of stories focusing on how Ortley Beach has become the state’s top “trouble spot” for beach erosion, which will be reflected in a re-engineering of the neighborhood’s dunes. More light was shed on that aspect of the project by the mayor at Wednesday night’s meeting.
The plan, as it currently stands, is to physically move the dune line back by 60-feet, with its peak now closer to the boardwalk, in order to create a larger beach berm and a more optimal slope to prevent future erosion incidents.
The “berm” is the open area of sand in front of the dune where beachgoers set up their chairs and umbrellas.
“We’ve asked NJDEP if we could move the dunes back 60 to 70 feet, because our dunes – if you’re standing on the boardwalk – are 100 or more feet until you get the point where it starts to rise,” said Hill. “If you go to Seaside Park or Seaside Heights, it’s very close to the boardwalk. If you go farther back, it gives us a longer beach and it also pitches the beach down.”
While the protective dunes themselves in Ortley Beach have received only minimal damage in storms, the berm has been all but washed away in some areas, making the beach smaller for public access, and costing taxpayers millions of dollars over the course of several years to truck in sand, repair fences, replace Mobi-Mats and rebuilt crossovers and entrances.
“Not only is our beach getting narrower and narrower, the past week or two along the ocean we’ve had a two to three foot drop,” said Deborah Martin, and Ortley Beach resident who addressed the township council Wednesday. “People who have trouble even getting on the beach, much less down to the ocean.”
With a center at about Fifth Avenue, a “scarp” has formed in recent days, representing a second “drop” before beachgoers can access the water.
“I was recently on Seaside Park’s BYO Funtown Beach, and it’s at least four times as wide as Ortley, if not more,” Martin added.
Hill also addressed an issue that came into play during the initial round of replenishment: the presence of beachfront development. When the first project was completed, the remains of Joey Harrison’s Surf Club was still present and the site was under private ownership. That land has now come under public ownership, however condominiums are being constructed directly north of the former Surf Club, and the Golden Gull condominium building is situated just north of that.
“The two condos, their property will jut out,” said Hill. “But the good news is that we’re going to be able to come back in where the old Surf Club was and push [the dunes] back, and the DEP has agreed that we should move the dunes back 60 feet.”
Hill also said he would lobby to push the dunes back even farther, more resembling Seaside Heights.
“I’d like to move back a little further, closer to 70 feet or more, but we’ll see what happens,” he said.
The federal government – or its contractor – will set the timetable once the bid process has been completed. Hill said he has asked for the worst-affected beaches (Ortley Beach, Mantoloking and Bay Head) to be completed first, but the contractor will likely have to move in a directional fashion with its equipment.
“We’re kind of in the middle,” said Hill. “I’ve asked if they could go to the beaches that are the narrowest, but apparently with their equipment, they are going to start in one area and move.”
The project will likely move either north-to-south or south-to-north. If it begins from the south, Ortley Beach will likely receive its replenishment earlier in the process since there is not a significant amount of work to be completed in Seaside Park or Seaside Heights.