OCEAN COUNTY, NJ While the nor'easter that dumped as much as 3 feet of snow in the northwestern corner of the state, the storm's wind and waves were leaving their mark on Ocean County's beaches.
Up and down the county waves that reached 12 feet at the height of the nor'easter carved away, leaving 10- to 12-foot vertical dropoffs in Bay Head and Ortley Beach, and damaging dune walkovers in a number of sites. Towns cordoned off walkways that normally lead down sloped paths to the beach, leaving damage that will need to be repaired in time for the summer beach season.
On Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy said the federal government should be stepping in to address the severe erosion in Bay Head, Ortley Beach and other spots, and said his administration has been in touch with federal officials.
It's not just about getting some normal replenishment for the summer beach season, but about protecting the towns, he said. "They're completely exposed right now."
DEP officials surveyed the beaches in 81 sites from Raritan Bay all the way down the Atlantic coast and along Delaware Bay before the storm as well as after, so they could determine the extent of the damage, said Col. Patrick Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
"That's a lesson we learned from Superstorm Sandy," Callahan said.
"All of our beachfill projects in New Jersey are done in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection," said Steve Rochette, public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Corps Philadelphia office.
"After storms, we coordinate with NJDEP on the extent of erosion to projects areas. We're still getting updates from the state, but preliminary information indicates several areas experienced significant erosion to beach berms as well as some dune erosion," Rochette said. "In some cases, we're able to get approval to place sand to areas damaged by 'extraordinary storm events.' However, based on initial information, it does not appear this particular storm meets the parameters to qualify for this."
Rochette said there is beach nourishment in Ocean County scheduled for Fiscal Year 2022, if there's enough funding.
"In between nourishments, all operation and maintenance is the responsibility of NJDEP and the municipalities there," he said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection described the damage as moderate to major along the northern barrier island in a report by its Division of Coastal Engineering, with most of the damage described as sloped erosion. Bay Head and Ortley Beach had vertical erosion. Seaside Park and Island Beach State Park also had vertical erosion to a lesser extent, but the Island Beach State Park damage was extensive enough that drive-on access for sportfishing has been suspended for the time being. Read more: Island Beach State Park Closes Due To 'Severe' Beach Erosion
DEP officials said they expect that much of the material eroded "will return to the 'dry' beach in time following the storm," though how long that will take is unclear.
Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club said the damage is proof that climate change is worsening issues along the ocean.
" Considering that it wasn't that strong of a storm, the amount of erosion that happened shows that climate impacts and sea-level rise are getting worse," he said. "We need action and we need it now. We must be able to adapt and adjust so that our coastal communities are prepared for the next storm."
He also criticized the dune replenishment projects that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has overseen along the coast, saying they "are not designed properly for sea-level rise and storm surge."
Army Corps officials said the dune projects provided the protection they were put in place to provide.
"These dune and berm projects are put in place to reduce the risk of storm damages to infrastructure (homes, businesses, boardwalks, roads, utility lines)," Rochette said. "These projects have been effective serving that purpose for many years in many different communities during numerous storm events. If not for the added beach and dune, erosion and associated wave and surge impacts could have threatened infrastructure in some of the hardest-hit communities."
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