The Ocean County freeholder board is becoming involved in the burgeoning debate as to whether a beach replenishment project should be delayed if it cannot be completed by the summer tourism season.
The board sent a letter to Lt. Col. Kristen Dahle, District Commander for the Army Corps of Engineers in Philadelphia, expressing its support for Seaside Heights’ request to either complete replenishment before the summer – as was originally planned – or wait until after Labor Day.
The project, which includes the construction of at least 200-feet of beachfront, a 22 foot-high vegetated dune and new crossovers from the boardwalk, was supposed to have been completed over the winter. Army Corps officials, however, have begun changing some of the timelines due to issues with the contractor, Weeks Marine, whose dredge boats have been affected by weather, breakdowns and projects out of the area.
“Our seasonal Mom & Pop businesses depend on a short window during the warmer months to survive,” members of the all-Republican board said in the letter. “Any major work on our ocean beaches would most certainly have a negative effect on our local economy.”
Both the freeholders as well as Seaside Heights municipal officials have welcomes the project, but have cautioned that Seaside Heights’ portion is different from surrounding communities. Though replenishment work closes only about two blocks of beachfront at a time, Seaside Heights’ unique boardwalk entrances have already been permanently removed so the project can be completed. Mayor Anthony Vaz said closed beaches during the summer would “destroy our town.”
“Everyone understands that the project is necessary, but they still have serious questions about the impact if this kind of work is done during the height of the tourism season,” said Freeholder Joseph Vicari.
Vaz said he has been in touch with the deputy chief of staff for Gov. Phil Murphy and the chief of staff for Rep. Tom MacArthur, and both pledged to help in the matter.
“As elected officials in a county where tourism is our number one industry, we have serious concerns about the impact of this work on our local businesses and communities,” the freeholders’ letter said.
According to the Army Corps, the R.S. Weeks, the dredge boat that will complete the project there, is currently “offline due to weather.”