Emergency beach repairs start in Wildwood amid $33M legal fight
A bulldozer began moving sand along a stretch of badly eroded beach Monday in a Jersey Shore town where the bitter fight over how to protect its rapidly shrinking shoreline has led to $33 million worth of litigation.
Before the summer tourism season kicks off this weekend, North Wildwood hopes to repair dunes in the most heavily eroded section of its beach and restore beach access points to usable condition. The state Department of Environmental Protection granted permission for emergency repairs last week.
The town and the state have been fighting for years over how best to protect North Wildwood’s shoreline as it waits to become the last part of the state to receive a beach replenishment project that is still at least two years away.
The state has fined North Wildwood $12 million for past unauthorized work on its beaches that the state claims could actually worsen erosion.
North Wildwood, in turn, is suing the state for $21 million, which it says is how much it has spent trucking sand to the shoreline over the past decade to try to keep up with erosion.
“We are happy to get this work completed soon,” said Mayor Patrick Rosenello. “But this certainly doesn’t fix the much larger issue, which is the lack of a beach nourishment project in North Wildwood.”
North Wildwood and its surrounding coastal neighbors have not received the periodic beach replenishment projects that most of the rest of the Jersey Shore has been getting for decades, due in part to the difficulty of getting approval from property owners.
As a result, it has experienced serious erosion over the last decade, and says it needs to take immediate emergency steps including shoring up dunes and building another steel sea wall to complement one it already built.
Numerous violation notices issued by the state remain active, including one that involves work the city did several years ago along a section of beachfront that it said had become badly eroded. The state said the work destroyed 8 acres of vegetated dunes, including 6.7 acres of critical wildlife habitat, and 1.1 acres of freshwater wetlands.
North Wildwood previously built a vinyl and steel bulkhead for about 10 blocks without state approval, saying it needed to act urgently to protect lives and property. That is separate from the latest bulkhead the city wanted to build, but agreed to forego for now.