As residents of Ocean County’s northern barrier island await the start of a federal beach replenishment project that will build 22 foot protective dunes and 200 foot-long beaches from Point Pleasant Beach to Seaside Park, Long Beach Island residents are in the midst of the same project on their 18 mile-long island.
The hulking, 325-foot hopper dredge has been patrolling the waters off Long Beach Island on and off for the past year, taking sand from the ocean floor and using its powerful engines to pump it through a network of pipes to the beaches a few miles west. There, crews spread the sand with bulldozers and similar pieces of heavy equipment with the goal of building a protective dune to prevent breaches in barrier islands like the one that occurred in Mantoloking in Superstorm Sandy – largely identified as the event during the storm that led to massive flooding on both sides of Barnegat Bay.
Life on the dredge boat is one that brings together varying fields of expertise, from mechanics, to welders, to machine operators, to engineers. In charge of the operation at sea is Capt. James “Woody” Hoffman, a Panama City, Fla. resident who describes his vessel as a “24/7 operation.”
“It’s a dangerous place,” he said, lauding his crew – fellow employees of the Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company – for adhering to strict safety codes, ranging from donning gloves every time they climb the vessel’s steep ladders, to wearing hard hats and life jackets in various situations. “There can be hydraulic fuel making things slipper, some of the drops are pretty steep too.”
The boat’s crew is 19 men and women who stay on the vessel for two weeks at a time, alternating long shifts that include both day and nighttime hours. They are brought out to the dredger on board the St. John’s River, a crew transport boat that is docked at the Lighthouse Marina in Barnegat Light.
The Liberty Island, a 5,200 ton vessel, has a draft of 16 feet empty and 28 feet with a full load of material.