Seaside Heights officials are working behind the scenes to ensure that work during the upcoming federal beach replenishment project takes place in the off-season rather than the height of summer in the borough.
Mayor Anthony Vaz said this week that the project, which will build a protective dune and widen beaches island-wide, could have a harmful impact on summer tourism if beaches are shut down for beachfill operations during the 13-week summer season. He, along with Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz and Borough Attorney George Gilmore, held a meeting with state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin and representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to state their case.
“The commissioner assured us that he would do everything he could to make sure that our summer would not be impacted,” said Christopher Vaz. “He believes, based on his staff’s comments, that the northern part of Ocean County will take a long time because they need a lot of sand.”
Summer of 2017 is not expected to be affected by the project, he said, however there is a chance that the summer months of 2018 could potentially fall in line with when replenishment operations are scheduled for the borough since it is likely that the island’s northern communities will be replenished first.
During beach replenishment, approximately four blocks of beachfront are shut down at a given time – usually for several days. While the boardwalk will remain open, the beaches themselves will be off-limits to sunbathers and swimmers, which officials believe could have a negative impact on boardwalk businesses, which rely on three months of revenue to earn the bulk of their annual income. Since the borough is 16 blocks long, significant swaths of the beachfront would, conceivably, but shut down at once.
“They can tie up a big portion of our public and paid beach,” said Christopher Vaz. “The good news was that they were very sympathetic to our cause and the cause of the business community on the boardwalk.”
Recently, it was revealed that New Jersey-based contractor Weeks Marine submitted the lowest of three bids for the project. Army Corps officials are currently reviewing all three bids to determine which to award. Corps officials have told Shorebeat that the bid specification did not list which towns should receive replenishment first or at a given time.
“If you are over-specific, you get exactly what you want, but you get it at a very high price,” explained Lt. Colonel Michael Bliss, commander of the Philadelphia Army Corps district. “We have an ability to shape [the project], if we divide our areas up, and we have areas that are certainly more vulnerable. Once we get a favorable bid, we intend to work with the contractor to see if it is okay with them to keep the same price, or if we have to put more money into it.”
Anthony Vaz said he and other officials visited the Holgate section of Long Beach Township recently to see beachfill operations underway there for a close-up view of how the process works.
“It was amazing how organized and how quickly it goes,” he said.
Still, his worry is for boardwalk businesses and their ability to have a successful two seasons ahead.
“We’ll let the public know way ahead of time,” the mayor said. “If it does interfere with our business community, we’ll have to take other actions.”