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August 01, 2017

Ooops! Army Corps drains one Margate beach swamp, creates another

Public Health Beaches
Dune ponding Photo courtesy/Heather Robertson

Huge ponds of water cover the Margate beach where the Army Corps of Engineers is building dunes. Ponded water serves as a catch basin for feces and bacteria grows in the basins as the sun heats the water. Margate, which had fought the dunes, is expected to head back to court over the ponding problem.

Criticized for creating huge ponds of water along the Margate beachfront where they are building state-mandated sand dunes, the Army Corps of Engineers tried to correct the ponding Tuesday but created a new problem.

The Corps at first pumped the water elsewhere on the beach, but it once again pooled, rather than perking down into the sand.

A Corps spokesman, who confirmed the pumping was taking place, did not respond when asked in a follow-up call about the new ponding or about testing the suspect water for bacteria.

Margate Commissioner Maury Blumberg had on Monday referred to the giant pools of water created by the Corps as "cesspools."

The city's lawyer, John Scott Abbott, said one of three water samples the city had tested indicated a high level of contamination from fecal matter. Bacteria can cause gastro issues, earaches and topical infections.

Beaches from Fredericksburg to Huntington Avenues were closed by the city as a precaution due to safety concerns, added Abbott.

Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said pumping ceased by early Tuesday afternoon, but will resume once lifeguards go off-duty for the evening.

A Corps contractor then will run hoses from the ponds directly into the surf, discharging the accumulated water into the ocean.

"How they are allowed to run it right into the ocean, I don't know," said Abbott of the Corps's newest plan for draining the beach.

Hajna said representatives of the Atlantic County Health Department will be on hand to take water quality samples.

A 300-foot stretch of beach will be closed, with water sampling for 150 feet on either side of the discharge, he said. A secondary sampling zone another 150 feet in each direction will also be checked, he added.

The state spokesman could not say if the remedial pumping work would be finished by Wednesday morning, deferring comment to the Corps. The federal agency has not responded to several requests for further details.

Corps engineers had theorized the water would dissipate by perking down into the sand, but that did not happen following an intense rain last weekend.

An engineer hired by homeowners who had opposed the project had accurately predicted the ponding issue, but a federal court judge discounted his predictions in allowing the state dune project to proceed.

The city had opposed the dune-building, which appears to have effectively dammed in accumulated runoff which flowed onto the beach.

The runoff from roofs and streets carries fecal matter, mostly from birds, with it. When it is warmed by the sun, bacteria which can cause health issues blossom.

Margate's city commission meets at 11 a.m. Wednesday to vote on possibly going back to court to fight the project.

"At this point, I don't see the commission not deciding to go through," with suing the Corps and the DEP,  Abbott added.