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Letter to Editor: Build Dunes That Can Pass the Test of Time

Ocean City resident Peaches Lukens asks the city to consider forming a research committee to plan for a durable dune system.

To the editor:

The city and state's plan to spend $10 million more of taxpayers money on beach replenishment is as unrealistic as building a sand castle on the beach today and expecting it to still be there a year from now.

The nature of barrier islands seems to be completely overlooked for far too long. Though "city" by all appearances, this city is built basically on a seven-mile-long sandbar. Sand moves.

Tidal currents and wind move it. Some areas of the island collect this moving sand, while other areas lose it. It's the way all barrier islands work, past and present.

All kinds of contraptions and superficial remedies cannot compare to the way nature dictates. Instead of dumping more sand, we need to rebuild what was once here. Dunes!!

Not measly dunes built on top of gargantuan sand bags or dotted with some grass, but dunes thick and wide with ample shrubs and dwarf trees whose root systems hold sand in place.

A healthy barrier island beach consists of about 9 "zones." Five of them make up various parts of an island's vital dune system. We barely have one of those important zones, let alone five that are needed. Avalon and Cape May Point are great models for dune development and the protection they serve. We can easily see the repercussions of duneless islands such as the sad devastation of Seaside Heights. Funtown Amusement Park sat like a sitting duck on a defenseless beach, only feet from the ocean. It was only a matter of time a storm would wash it away.

Developing adequate dunes unfortunately paints a dismal picture for all those first-floor home owners seeking an ocean view, but those days are gone if we really want to find some long-term solutions for our eroding beaches. The whole island depends upon such a line of defense. Hindsight is 20/20.

If we knew back then, what we know now, we hopefully wouldn't have built so close to the ocean or ground floor homes on the beach. We cant tear down homes to widen the beaches, but we can begin to reconstruct some of the natural order of barrier island ecology, by building adequate and healthy dunes one row at a time. Once one row is well-established, sand collects in front of it and another dune line can be established. Building out as we go. This also provides food, habitat and shelter for a host of native wildlife that migrate through or live alongside us on this wee li'l island.

Long-lasting solutions are at hand and fairly easy to put in motion, so why aren't we considering these?

How many more years are we going to throw money away and sand on the beach thinking that's the best we have?

I encourage the administration alongside their Environmental Commission to create a research and planning committee to get going on these dunes before the next Big One ... which could come our way again sooner than we think and right now we have virtually no dunes to protect us!

Peaches Lukens
Ocean City

janice December 09, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Wait you said - Along side the Environmental Commission? Oh that is really funny. The Environmental Commission is a political entity only beholding again to the realtors and developers, the insiders club, just like everyone else in Ocean City. The Environmental Commission has never done anything except pick up trash which is all they apparently are good for. As long as this town is ruled by developers and realtors and the Environmental Commission is just an extension of same, there is no hope. How about a nice bike path along the beach, Peaches, instead of dunes?
Sam Lavner December 10, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Peaches - Thanks for taking the time to write this. I read it with intense interest for a few reasons - among them: I've taken a personal and acacemic interest in coastal development planning for sea level rise for around 25 years, I've been involved in relevant issues here in OC for about 10, and I consider you to be a friend. With that in mind, I respond to your letter below. I know that you limited the scope of your letter to beachfront flood mitigation, with emphasis on beach measures. I agree with your recommendations about that. However, I wonder if you are aware that no mitigation plan for naturally migrating barrier island can work without measures that protect the back end - the salt marshes, tidal ponds and creeks, etc.? As sand is washed away at the beach and in the surf zone, much of it makes its way into the inlets where it is deposited to form our wetlands. The wetlands serve many valuable purposes, and the critical one in the context of flooding is that it absorbs water and is otherwise a barrier to bayside flooding. So, even the most effective beachfront flood mitigation measures will fail absent adequate bayside measures, foremost among which is wetland integrity - by protection of existing wetlands and creation of new ones. This is true even in our scenario where island migration is impeded by development. So, we must avoid all weltand destruction or even disruption unless the purpose it serves is essential. Continued...
Sam Lavner December 10, 2012 at 01:12 AM
I can bring this into starker relief with real examples. The Rt 52 Causeway project destroyed critical wetlands, but it provides essential transportation infrastructure (which provides tremendous flood mitigation benefits by enabling disaster preparedness, response, etc.) I believe that any defensible, pragmatic environmental economic argument concludes that the environmental and even flood protection costs of that project are easily justified. By way of contrast - wetland destruction for an amenity (a bike path, for example), especially one whose purpose is met by other means with no environmental or flood effects, is not even remotely justified. You recommend that the Environmental Commission research a plan for flood mitigation along the beach front. I recommend that we have actual experts look into that. (Need I remind you about the environmental commission's embarrassing role in promoting the wetland bike path, in approving the last administration's destructive re-write of the zoning map to permit a wide range of construction in wetlands, which, by the way, is intact and should be removed?). We have a city engineer, an excellent emergency manager and public works director, and FEMA grants available to do the necessary planning. I hope you agree that this is the way to go - comprehensive, practical, and expert storm mitigation planning and not ad hoc, political, half measures. Your friend, Sam.
chris December 10, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Let's keep the Environmental Commission out of environmental issues since it is on record that instead of regarding what someone says, they make their decisions based on how it is said and who said it. They totally discredited themselves in the past and I am sure the administration would not waste their time meeting with that group as everyone knows that they have zero credibility at this point.
Eric Sauder December 10, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Thanks for your post Peaches. You're getting an informative discussion going. With the scope of this disaster I wonder where the money will come from to do what is necessary just to get beaches back to the condition they were in prior to Sandy. Clearly beaches that didn't have a dune system need dunes and those that had dunes need to have them rebuilt. We're talking the length of New Jersey coast. One bad Nor'Easter, like the one we had a couple of winters ago, will make that painfully evident. This is going to be a massive job and one that needed to be started yesterday.
George MacInerney December 11, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Thanks, Sam, for giving this the proper perspective. I also hope disaster planning here and elsewhere is conducted by experts and that as a result, a comprehensive plan - factoring in beach, current and future development regulations, bayfront, inlet, saltmarsh, etc measures is devised. Then, of course, we have to find the money to implement the plan, which is a whole other challenge.
steve purdy December 11, 2012 at 02:51 PM
LOL! This is PRICELESS! Irene (Janice) and Sam should take this show on the road. Irene & Sam can insult local volunteers. Add Eric to insult local politicians. Call it the "Mean and Crazy Tour". It would be hysterical!!
Drew with the lose screw December 11, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Oh - Crazy, I thought you used the Frank Ruch lable - today you are steve purdy? While you beat your own chest in your SELF PROMOTION TOUR - volunteer of the year - it will do you no good. Too many people know exactly what you are all about and not only that, we do have those letters and emails - a whole file as a matter of fact. Keep it up, Buddy. The file gets bigger with each harrassing post.
StevePFrankRAJ December 11, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Steve - Hilarious - you actually take issue with what you see as insult by insulting the accused. Brilliant. A substantive rebuttal would be productive, but not as funny.
Drew with the lose screw December 11, 2012 at 06:19 PM
StevePFrankRAJ - what do you expect? the guy isn't smart he is just in everyone's face constantly but he is certainly not a smart guy but someday he wants to be the Mayor of Ocean City and that is the day a tsunami should wipe the coast clean because it would be less deadly
AJRuchPurdy December 12, 2012 at 12:54 PM
I think we need a group formed, lead my me, of course. I love to jump on winning ideas in my self promotional tour. This group will be similar to the anti BYOB in that it is a sure win - who doesn't want beach protection after this storm? I will be Chairman and call the newspapers and get my name in (or I could write letters but that didn't work out too well for me before.) First I will be councilman, then Mayor and watch out - don't even think about getting in my way or I will write emails to your neighbors, maybe even your bosses. And I will make up names and put them on posts, even when it doesn't apply. Don't mess with me - I wantta be mayor!!!

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