Neighbors from the south end of Ocean City have watched their beach erode slowly over the past few years, but the encroaching waves reached new lengths on an otherwise beautiful August weekend recently.
The high tide pushed the weekend crowd into a huddle up against the dunes at the back of the beach. The waves rolled across the soft sand, covered most of a beach volleyball court, and forced the Ocean City Beach Patrol to drag its equipment to the very back of the beach amid the crowd.
That's about the time the petition started going around. Jeff Monihan, a former real estate agency owner and current beachfront property owner, asked his neighbors to help send a message.
As of the weekend, about 60 different property owners had signed a petition that will ask the city to act with urgency in requesting more sand for south-end beaches.
In a $10 million project this winter, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will pump new sand onto the beaches at the north end of Ocean City. But the beach replenishment will stop at 12th Street — miles shy of of the south-end beaches that are disappearing.
Convential wisdom holds that all sand eventually drifts south, but the neighbors are hoping for an unconventional solution — they'd like to see the dredging equipment keep going to replenish the entire island this winter.
The tale of two beaches in Ocean City illustrates the high stakes in the federal beach nourishment program — an extremely costly and often very temporary solution for rebuilding eroded beaches in resorts that rely on them to feed their tourist economies.
The north-end beaches successfully applied for the Army Corps program in the early 1990s and have since been eligible for a three-year cycle of "maintenance" projects to restore the beach to the profile after the initial nourishment project. The approved area runs from the north end of the island to 36th Street. (See attached PDF for a project history.)
The federal government pays for 65 percent of the program, while the state Department of Environmental Protection picks up the other 35 percent. Of the state's portion, Ocean City is required to contribute 25 percent.
So for this winter's project, for instance, Ocean City will fund just 8.75 percent of the anticipated $10 million project. In August, City Council approved the borrowing of $617,500 to help fund its share.
Ocean City Business Administrator Mike Dattilo said the city would likely be prepared to fund a similar share for south-end beach replenishment, but he doesn't anticipate the federal funding coming through any time soon. He said the south end is on an approved list but is still waiting for funding.
Richard Pearsall, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District, confirmed on Tuesday that the area between 36th and 59th streets in Ocean City is on a list of authorized projects.
Pearsall said the south-end project is waiting on two things: a project partnership agreement with the State of New Jersey and federal funding. He said the Army Corps uses economic benefits criteria to prioritize various projects.
He said the state has the option to pay for the south-end project itself — something that happened in 1995 ($1,233,000) and 2001 ($1.8 million) when the state provided funds for the federal Army Corps to continue work beyond 36th Street to replenish south-end beaches.
The key for the south-end petitioners and the city will be to find a government — federal or state — with a few million to spare for a new project and to make a case that the economic benefits would be critical.
Because of the availability of both parking and restrooms, the beach at 58th Street is among the most popular on the island.
(Do you have photographs of south-end erosion? Upload them to this story.)