NORTH WILDWOOD — New Jersey is refusing to allow a shore town whose sand dunes have washed away in places to build a bulkhead to protect itself, ruling that no one is in imminent danger.

The state Department of Environmental Protection told North Wildwood on Wednesday it will not give permission to the city to build a steel bulkhead on a section of beach where the dunes have been completely obliterated by storms.

That prompted Mayor Patrick Rosenello to say Thursday the city will move in appellate court for permission to build the barrier, which the state says will likely only worsen erosion from the force of waves bashing against it and scouring away any sand in front of it.

“Obviously we are very disappointed in the DEP's continued lack of concern regarding shore protection in North Wildwood,” he said. “The department has failed to do its job and now they are trying to thwart our efforts to protect ourselves. Frankly, it is unconscionable.”

A severely eroded section of sand dune lines the beach in North Wildwood (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
A severely eroded section of sand dune lines the beach in North Wildwood (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

In a letter from the DEP received by North Wildwood on Wednesday, the agency said it visited the site and determined there is no imminent risk to life or property near the dune breach.

It said a public walkway and a stormwater management system are between 100 and 160 feet from the eastern edge of the dunes, and that the nearest private homes are 200 feet from it.

“A bulkhead, if it were to experience direct wave attack in this location, is likely to increase erosion to the beach and dune system,” Colleen Keller, assistant director of the DEP's division of land resource protection, wrote. Without careful collaboration with the state including the use of other shore protection methods, “a bulkhead could exacerbate, rather than alleviate conditions during future storms.”

It was the latest in a years-long battle between the city and the state over how to protect North Wildwood, one of the most erosion-prone spots in New Jersey's 127-mile (204-kilometer) shoreline.

New Jersey has fined the town $12 million for unauthorized beach repairs that it says could worsen erosion, while the city is suing to recoup the $30 million it has spent trucking sand to the site for over a decade.

An eroded beach in North Wildwood
An eroded beach in North Wildwood (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

But trucking in sand is no longer an option, the mayor said, adding that erosion has created choke points along the beach that are too narrow to let dump trucks pass.

North Wildwood has asked the state for emergency permission to build a steel bulkhead along the most heavily eroded section of its beachfront — something it previously did in two other spots.

The DEP prefers the sort of beach replenishment projects carried out for decades by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where massive amounts of sand are pumped from offshore onto eroded beaches, widening them and creating sand dunes to protect the property behind them.

Virtually the entire New Jersey coastline has received such projects. But in North Wildwood, legal approvals and property easements from private landowners have thus far prevented one from happening.

Although the last two towns required to sign off on a sand replenishment project did so a year ago, the project still needs a final go-ahead. When it gets that, the work will probably take two years to complete, officials say.

Defiant Beach Town
(AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

On several occasions, North Wildwood carried out emergency repairs, including construction of an earlier bulkhead without approval from the state.

Shawn LaTourette, New Jersey’s environment protection commissioner, warned the town last July that unauthorized work could have more serious consequences if it continues, including potential loss of future shore protection funding.

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Gallery Credit: New Jersey 101.5


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