My assignment this month? To update all of you out in cyber space on the Beach Replenishment Project going on. Don’t go away. When have I ever bored you? Well there was that piece on the Phragmite Project – but this is different. Don’t you want to know that St. Mary’s By The Sea Convent won’t be St. Mary’s In the Sea? I do.
Never fear. I am Johnny on the spot and immediately run out to look for the changes. Since the beach replenishment project started in Cape May at the beginning of 3rd Avenue (The Cove Beach) and then traveled east to Central Avenue in Cape May Point, I jump in the car and head straight for The Cove. I jump in the car because it’s freezing cold outside. So don’t yell at me because I’m not walking.
The first thing I notice is that The Cove Restaurant is becoming one with the newly formed sand dunes. This problem actually started long before this most recent Beach Replenishment which began in mid-November. Before the newly improved dunes came along, you could sit in the dining room with the picture windows and you had a lovely view of the beach, the ocean and Cape May Point’s lighthouse. Now – well you’ve got to see it to believe it – it’s a wall of sand and if someone doesn’t do something, it will soon become a mountain of sand.
So, the good news is those folks who like The Cove Beach now actually have a beach to sit on instead of the postage stamp-sized beach that was there before. The bad news is the owners of the Cove Restaurant, Paul Johnston & family are not happy to have their business turn into a mirage. Surfers and jetty fisherman are not happy. Ordinances were introduced this past summer, and later compromises made, regarding fishing on the jetty and surfing at The Cove.
Why? Because where there once was no beach now there are beachgoers who get in the way of the fishing lines and the surfing. The city fathers must have had visions of sunbathers tangled up in fishing line dancing in their heads and decided to put a stop to all this fishing nonsense then they found out just how serious a fisherman or a surfer can be and quickly backed off that plan.
So, moving right along… I took a ride out to the lighthouse at Cape May Point State Park. Oh my gawd. You’ll never believe how funny this is. At the southern observation deck, you know, the one facing the beach and the ocean, there are two binoculars. You put a quarter into them in the hopes of getting a better view of the ocean and the horizon – right? Well, if you put a quarter into the meter now, guess what you see? Yeah– sand. The Army Corps’ suggestion is to put a longer neck on the binoculars.
Yeah. Right. And then what? ‘Cause you’ll need a giraffe to get you to the top of the binoculars. In fact, you need a giraffe just to see the ocean. Yes, I’m officially done whining because you know what the good news is? Once you do get a peek over the mounds of sand, there’s a beach where once there was none.
I wonder what it looks like in front of St. Mary’s By The Sea. Holy large beach!! No. Really. You remember what it looked like? Any kind of serious storm and the convent was going to be floating out to sea.
It’s fabulous what they’ve done in two months. There are rows and rows of tiny fledgling grasses holding on to dear life as the wind whips across the beach. And I remember when they planted the grasses on Cape May’s main beaches. See the grasses take hold and the dunes form and everything creates a kind of barrier protecting the beach from further erosion and from saltwater coming in where it’s not supposed to which threatens the wildlife refuge and plants which are supposed to be growing there.
Long story short – That’s why you can’t step on the dunes. And you really need to stay away from the cute little grasses that are trying to take root. So, behave.
I drove around Cape May Point looking at all the other beach paths and each one has changed thanks to the Army Corps of Engineer’s Beach Replenishment Project.
Actually, the fact that there are beaches where there were none is really thanks to the perseverance of Cape May Point Mayor Malcolm Frasier who began his push to replenish the beaches back in 1991 when he met with former U.S. Rep. William Hughes, D.-2nd. Initially the tiny borough of Cape May Point was ineligible for federal money – the small population did not justify the use of federal funds. But also in 1991, President George Bush issued a directive allowing the Corps to consider beach projects to protect natural areas. As any good birder knows, Cape May Point plays host to one of the greatest migratory shows in the world each spring and fall because of an internationally significant wetlands complex. This distinction made it eligible for the federal sand dollars.
Now the details.
According to the Army Corps of Engineers’ feasibility report: “The complex interaction of the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean has led to persistent shoreline erosion within the study area. This has been aggravated by the construction of the Federal navigation project at Cape May Inlet, with resultant erosion along the Meadows shoreline averaging 15 feet per year. This unstable shoreline has necessitated repeated local action in the form of construction and rehabilitation of numerous groins, beach nourishment, and dune construction since the 1930s.”
The project benefits the City of Cape May, beginning at 3rd Avenue heading nearly 2 miles west to Central Avenue in Cape May Point. The project also benefits the neighboring land-locked borough of West Cape May which has fallen victim to many a costal storm over the years when the ocean comes up and floods the borough. The last time this happened was in 1985 during Hurricane Gloria.
Beach construction began in mid-November and approximately 1.4 million – that’s MILLION- cubic yards of sand was dredged in. The Corps expects to replenish the beach with another 650,000 cubic yards every 4 years.The cost of the project can be divided into two phases. Phase One pumped in 850,000 cubic yards of sand for a total cost of $5.1 Million in federal money. Then, a funny thing happened – the Corps ran out of money. They needed an additional $3.9 million to finish pumping in the remaining 600,000 cubic yards of sand.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philadelphia District said the Corps found moneys from other areas in the country which were “reprogrammed” so the project could be completed without any further complications. Had the project been delayed, an additional cost of $1 million would have been needed to remobilize the dredging company.
Now the good stuff.
This summer’s tourists will be delighted to find beaches where once there were none or very little of one. The towns of Cape May, West Cape May and Cape May Point are deliriously happy because the tourists will be delighted and will want to come here more and stay longer. Yes, there are a few merchants and fisherman who aren’t thrilled with the changes but in the final analysis the changes will have been for the greater good and for the preservation of our little piece of paradise.