By DONALD WITTKOWSKI, OCNJDaily
A mini-city is taking shape on a stretch of Ocean City beach that is normally deserted in the dead of winter.
Construction trailers, bulldozers, earthmovers, excavators, mountainous piles of pipes and workers wearing hard hats crowd the shoreline on the beach between 58th and 59th streets next to Corson’s Inlet State Park.
They are expected to be joined on Sunday by a dredge named “Illinois” that will be anchored in Corson’s Inlet to begin the process of pumping fresh sand onto the storm-eroded beaches in the south end of Ocean City.
In all, a 1.5-mile section of beach from Corson’s Inlet State Park at 59th Street to 45th Street will be replenished with 555,000 cubic yards of new sand, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency overseeing the project.
Originally, the Army Corps had planned to restore the south end beaches with 455,000 cubic yards of sand, but increased the total after a series of recent coastal storms caused even more erosion to the shoreline, explained Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the agency.
After the south end is done, the Army Corps will move to the northern part of Ocean City to replenish the beaches from Seaview Road to 12th Street in April and May. Completion of the project is expected in time for the bustling summer tourism season.
A total of 1.4 million cubic yards of new sand, up from the original estimate of 800,000 cubic yards, will help restore the north end beaches.
“This is good news, as our most vulnerable beaches will be rebuilt after the worst of the winter and spring storms have passed,” Mayor Jay Gillian said in a statement in November about Ocean City’s entire beach replenishment project.
The project will help the tourist-dependent city keep its beaches in tip-top shape so it may continue attracting summer vacationers to its shoreline.
Besides the aesthetic value of having wide, powdery beaches, the city will also benefit from the replenishment project by having a bigger barrier of sand and dunes to protect homes, businesses, the Boardwalk and roads from the ocean’s storm surge.
“This project is designed to reduce the risk for homes, businesses, boardwalks, roads and utility lines – all of the infrastructures,” Rochette said in an interview Thursday.
Ocean City is part of a replenishment project that also includes Strathmere and Sea Isle City. Strathmere’s beaches received 511,000 cubic yards of new sand, up from the original estimate of 410,000 cubic yards.
Sea Isle’s project will follow Ocean City. In Sea Isle, plans call for 510,000 cubic yards of sand to be deposited on the beaches from about 75th Street to 93rd Street in Townsends Inlet. Another 250,000 cubic yards of sand will freshen up the beaches from around 28th Street to 53rd Street.
Rochette noted that the final amount of sand for Sea Isle’s beaches may be increased, depending on the results of future surveys.
A $32.5 million contract has been awarded for the replenishment project for all three towns. However, there are options built into the contract that could push the cost up to $41.3 million if surveys of the storm-damaged beaches show that even more sand is needed. The original estimate was 2.4 million cubic yards of sand for all three towns.
“When we put out plans and specifications for a contract, it is largely based on the conditions of the beach at that time,” Rochette said. “After we put out plans and specifications for (this) contract, a series of nor’easters occurred, which increased the sand quantities needed. The contract includes options, which allows for the placement of some additional sand.”
Meanwhile, the pumping of sand for Ocean City’s south end beaches is scheduled to begin Sunday by the contractor, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., of Oak Brook, Ill.
There has been a slight delay caused by needed repairs to the company’s dredge, the “Illinois.” Now anchored in Absecon Inlet, the repaired dredge will be towed back to Corson’s Inlet on Sunday morning, with pumping resuming around noon, Ocean City spokesman Doug Bergen said.
Two blocks of beach at a time will be closed as the project moves from south to north. Already, barriers and “Danger … Construction Area” signs block the pathways to the beach at 58th and 59th streets.
An army of heavy construction machinery and piles of massive pipes stacked on top of each other have taken over what would usually be an empty beachfront at this time of year.
Despite frigid temperatures and a chilly wind blowing on Thursday afternoon, Milton Johnson, a shoreman for Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., said he looks forward to spending time on Ocean City beaches over the winter.
“It’s not every day that you stand on the beach, right?” he said, smiling.