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March 23, 2023

North Wildwood's beaches are disappearing as officials prepare for summer season

Mayor Patrick Rosenello alerted residents and summer travelers that high tides are causing to persistent sand erosion

Environment Beaches
wildwood beach sand.jpg Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Sand on some North Wildwood beaches is washing away quicker than it can be replaced, causing problems for city officials as they prepare for the busy summer season. In previous years, the city has used sand from Wildwood (shown above) to supplement its beaches.

Sand on several North Wildwood beaches is being washed away by high tides faster than it can be replaced, causing erosion and potential difficulties keeping beaches open to the public in time for the summer, Mayor Patrick Rosenello said in a letter to residents this week. 

The beaches between Third and Seventh avenues and 12th to 16th avenues have been the most susceptible to erosion and have lost much of their sand volume this past winter, with little to no dry beach at high tide, Rosenello wrote in a Facebook post to the North Wildwood community. Some areas may not be ready for visitors by Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of the summer season, CBS Philadelphia reported. 

The city installed a steel bulkhead, a structure used to protect the land from erosion by tidal waves, despite a state order barring such beach construction. Rosenello said that the bulkhead has kept the damage from becoming "catastrophic" to public and private property, though the city and state environmental officials remain locked in a legal battle over some of the unauthorized beach repairs North Wildwood has made over the last several years. 

In December, New Jersey sued North Wildwood to stop the city from building prohibited supports for its sand dune system following a storm last fall that caused excessive beach erosion. The city countersued in January, seeking $21 million from the state as a reimbursement for its long-term beach repair expenses and permission to build additional structures, the Inquirer reported. 

By February, the Department of Environmental Protection issued a $12.8 million fine to North Wildwood for unauthorized work on its beaches. The work included prohibited beach replenishment, pier renovations, construction of a bar and restaurant, allegedly building bathrooms too far from the designated sewer system and boardwalk development, reported. 

Rosenello said that in previous years, North Wildwood has utilized Wildwood's beach for "sand back-passing" projects each year in order to replenish the beach for its busy season. By harvesting sand and using off-road dump trucks to spread the sand along North Wildwood's beaches, city officials could dump additional sand right at the shoreline. 

High tide has caused issues with this system before, halting progress for several days in a row. Previous plans to build a sand berm, a man-made hill of sand used to protect beaches from erosion, used up too many of the city's resources and were later scrapped. 

"This year, however, the high tide is up to one or more of these piers twice per day," Rosenello said. "Even today, which is a very calm day with a normal high tide, two hours after high tide there is still water up to Morey's Piers. This makes it impossible to use this route for the back-passing." 

The city is considering using street-safe trucks to transfer the sand, though it needed to transfer more than 350,000 cubic yards of sand last year. That equates to more than 20,000 truckloads. Since the regular trucks are unable to operate directly on the beach, the city would need to use 60,000 truckloads to transfer all of the sand to North Wildwood's narrow beaches, which Rosenello said is "impossible to accomplish considering our time frame and infrastructure." 

North Wildwood officials have asked the state legislature to approve funding for the Department of Environmental Protection to begin a hydraulic dredge project this year using the Hereford Inlet. The request is still pending. A separate project using sand from the Hereford Inlet is in progress and construction is not set to begin for another 18 months, Rosenello said. 

The Department of Environmental Protection declined to comment on Rosenello's message to the North Wildwood community or the possibility of beach closures due to sand loss and high tide. 

While it remains unclear whether all of North Wildwood's beaches will be ready for visitors by Memorial Day Weekend, Rosenello said that the Inlet beach has grown and can easily accommodate large groups of people, though city officials will continue raking and grading the beach as summer approaches.