A massive dune building project by the Army Corps of Engineers, one which Margate didn’t want to go ahead at all, is underway on Margate’s north end.
The Army Corps of Engineers recently revised the dune building timeline and Ventnor, which had been supportive of the dune project, won’t see torn up beaches until late summer. But Margate’s beaches will see a series of rolling closures for the rest of the summer, the town’s peak tourist season.
“Aren’t we lucky,” said Margate Mayor Michael S. Becker.
The dune building is currently at the north end of Margate starting almost exactly on the city’s border with Ventnor at Fredericksburg Avenue. About two blocks are currently closed to the public. The plan calls for 1,000 feet of the beach to be closed at a time as the work moves south, adding sand to beaches and constructing a line of dunes the length of the island.
The Army Corps of Engineers approved a $63.3 million contract with Weeks Marine to add massive amounts of sand to beaches in the four towns on the island, including building a line of protective dunes the length of the beach.
Margate fought the dune building project but lost in court. When it was announced that dune building on Absecon Island would be done during the peak summer months, many speculated that it was payback for Margate’s opposition.
The Army Corps has said Margate’s obstruction did affect the timing, in that it delayed the work enough to put it smack in the middle of summer. But the Army Corps said mechanical issues and weather delays, not politics, are why Ventnor is being skipped.
Army Corps spokesman Stephen Rochette said one of the two dredging machines is undergoing maintenance and some weather related delays made the original time schedule impossible.
Margate Mayor Becker won’t say the new timeline is payback, but instead prefers to look at it diplomatically. “I will repeat my party line: I think that Ventnor had more political capital than we had,” Becker said in a recent interview.
There’s nothing the city can do about it now, he said, so visitors and residents will just have to make the best of things. He said 2017 looked to be shaping up as a pretty good summer for local business, and said he hopes the work won’t cause too much of a disruption.
“We’ll have to see where we are in September. We’ll be back again for another summer,” he said.
The new schedule means dune building in Margate through early September, then continue to Longport to the South.
Some work in Atlantic City, to the North of both Margate and Ventnor, continues with a pipeline dredge, which will reach Ventnor and begin that portion of the work in late August or early September.
The ocean views
On Fredericksburg Avenue, signs welcoming you to Ventnor and Margate, respectively, face off on either side of the divide. The town border runs down the crown of the road, with the Margate sign welcoming you to “A residential community by the sea.”
Over on the Ventnor side, Bob and Barbara Malkin of Cherry Hill were worried when they found out the beach project would have the beaches closed nearby during their stay at a rental property in the beach block. They were told that the noise of the trucks backing up would go all night, but Barbara said they hadn’t heard a thing so far.
Across the border in Margate, bright orange netting marks the parameters of the project, where a wide brown steel pipe comes in from the offshore dredge pumping sand and water onto the beach. The water washes back into the ocean, and crews using heavy equipment spread the remaining sand onto the beach and shape it into sand dunes.
Plans call for the work to continue day and night through the duration, and those living, visiting or renting in the closed off blocks during the work have to walk or drive around the project area. Some heading to the beach on a July afternoon as the work began seemed blasé about the inconvenience. One woman said she just has a little farther to walk. On the beachfront, sprawling houses overlooked the work, and the ocean beyond.
“I guess this is something they have to do, but I think the timing sucks,” said Adriane Rothenberg, who rode her bike up to the closed beach to check out the progress of the project. Rothenberg grew up in Margate, and now lives in the Philadelphia area and has a summer house in Margate. She remembers the damage to her parents’ home from the nor’easter in March, 1962, one of the most damaging storms to ever hit the Jersey Shore.
“There was a bad storm when we were living at the beach, and we had a foot of sand in the living room,” she said. She was a child at that time, and while she sees drawbacks for beachfront owners who may lose views when the dunes are completed, she believes the storm protection is worth it.