The noise of summer: Beach projects bug residents, visitors

BRICK, N.J. — Ah, the sounds of summer: waves crashing on the shore, the calls of seagulls, the beep-beep-beep of bulldozers in reverse ...

New Jersey residents love their beaches, one of the state's economic engines and a tourist magnet. What they don't love so much is the process of keeping those beaches nice and wide, particularly when it happens during the summer.

The federal and state governments have long carried out beach replenishment projects here and in other states. After Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the East Coast in 2012, those efforts accelerated, and New Jersey is in the midst of building or repairing protective sand dunes along most of its 127-mile (200-kilometer) shoreline.

Not all of that work can be done in the fall or winter. That inevitably creates temporary disruption for beach residents and visitors, even though most acknowledge the need for the work.

Jerry Ranges owns a house on the beach in Brick Township, where a beach replenishment project was recently carried out directly in front of it. He realizes he will benefit from the added protection of the wider beach, even if it means some noise and vibration.

"It's got to be done," said Ranges, who lives in Honolulu but stays at the Jersey shore in the summer. "You just have to live with it."

Ranges loves the cooling sea breezes that come with living on the beach.

"I hate air conditioning," he said. "I love to leave the windows open. But with this going on, you can't. I had to buy an air conditioner."

He and his wife, Lis Ranges, had to use a beach about a mile (1.6 kilometers) away while the work was in front of their home. The round-the-clock work involves a huge offshore ship pumping torrents of sand and water onto the beaches and bulldozers moving it and smoothing it on the shoreline.

"The house vibrates all night long," she said. "The bed shakes."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put in their yard a vibration detection sensor that sends an alarm to supervisors if the shaking exceeds a certain level.

The beach work often is a surprise to visitors who have no idea the work is going on when they book rentals, often months in advance. Annalise Roberts, of Mahwah, was among a group who recently arrived at the Brick beach, only to encounter signs saying it was closed and directing them to one a few blocks away.

She had previously experienced beach replenishment work up close during a stay on Florida's Long Boat Key near Sarasota.

"There were a lot of pipes, and you hear a lot of beeping from the bulldozers," she said. "But then one morning you walk outside and the beach is twice the size it was a few days earlier, and you say, 'This is the greatest thing ever!'"

Sandy wreaked havoc in this part of Brick, destroying homes and sparking gas-fed fires that burned down an entire community of more than 60 bungalows.

Ed Craumer, of Oradell, owns a summer home two blocks from the beach in Long Beach Island's Surf City and said, "They work 24/7, and we hear the machines all night long."

A piece of heavy equipment maybe 20 yards (18 meters) away dropped a large pipe on the sand, shaking his wife's beach chair.

"This is not exactly a quiet day at the beach," said his wife, Lois Craumer.

Army Corps spokesman Steve Rochette said some projects take as long as two years to complete, so it's inevitable that some work will have to take place during the summer months. There are only so many specialized boats available to do the work, and the Corps closes only 1,000 feet (300 meters) of beach at a time to minimize dislocation.

The loudest criticism of summer beach work came last year from Margate, a wealthy beach town just south of Atlantic City, where residents and officials fought for years in an unsuccessful legal battle to block the dune project. They warned that due to the particular topography of their beach, building dunes would trap water between the sand piles and the wooden bulkhead at the edge of the beach.

That's exactly what happened, creating vast ponds that residents initially had to slog through or take long detours around before the Corps pumped the water away and built sand crossovers. A permanent solution involving concrete outfall pipes is nearly halfway done.

"It was mayhem," Mayor Michael Becker said. "It was hell for a while."

The remediation work will be done in the offseason.

"We made a deal saying we don't want them on our beaches this summer," Becker said. "So they'll be back in the spring."


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