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Even the ice cream men in Ventnor are upset about state's July beach and dune construction

Ventnor has told the state its beaches are too busy in summer for the disruption of beach replenishment, now scheduled from mid June to mid July. But whether the town can delay the project until after Labor Day is not clear.

VENTNOR -- Call back after Labor Day.

This is what the beach town of Ventnor has told the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: its beaches are not available for dune construction and replenishment during the middle of summer.

"Once again, far-flung bureaucrats are placing the disruptive work from June 8 to July 12 and likely beyond – squarely at the height of summer tourism season," City Commissioner Lance Landgraf posted on the city's Facebook page.

"Unfortunately, the city, its business and our residents have made other plans at this time and our beaches are unavailable for the dune and replenishment work. Our city has multiple concerts, a surf camp, Independence Day celebrations and thousands of visitors coming to town for their hard-earned summer vacations."

Even the ice cream men were upset about the timing of beach work, which the state announced this week will affect Ventnor from mid June to mid July, then move to Margate for the rest of the summer and into September.

Longport work will start Sept. 20. Atlantic City work starts next week.

Attending a press conference organized by the city Thursday, vendor Robert Lukasiewicz, 54, said the enormous pipes running along the beach will complicate his job selling ice cream from a cart on the beach.

But he was also worried about safety of children around the pipes, which are carrying sand in at high pressures.

"If you're around all kinds of equipment, they're going to have to think about safety," he said. "One of the pipes could blow out."

Guy Haines, another ice cream vendor and longtime Ventnor resident, recalled that the 24/7 beach replenishment and the pipes that snake the beach caused a lot of problems in 2013.

"You're going to have to climb over that pipe again this summer?" he said. "People that want to get on the beach, they'll have to climb over that pipe, that are on wheel chairs and things. Even the [all terrain] chairs you'll supply, its still difficult to push them over those dunes."

Whether Ventnor has any authority to refuse access is questionable. Margate fought unsuccessfully in court for years to block the project. The state acquired necessary easements from Ventnor years ago, Landgraf acknowledged in a separate telephone call.

In a press conference held Thursday near the Ventnor Pier, Landgraf said the city would be meeting with the state Friday to try to figure out ways to minimize the disruption.

He said the state has said it would consider placing the major pipes on a beach other than the surfing beach at the pier.

"We understand why it needs to be built, and built the sooner the better," Landgraf said. "We had hoped to be able to a have a free and clear summer."

The commissioners said the disruption and rolling beach closures could hurt business and undermine plans for beach activities, including surf camps, drum circles and concerts.

"Our business owners have 20 weekends in the best case scenario, weather permitting," said Commissioner Tim Kriebel. "Everyone from Realtors to restaurants rely on the beach being open and active."

Landgraf has also asked U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo - who lives in Ventnor - to intervene with the Army Corps.

"For them to change their gears on us so quickly," Landgraf said. "This is a delay by the Army Corps that waited too long to do this project. We're getting penalized for their poor planning. It really sticks in our craw. We were the ones all along that supported our project."

(Note: Landgraf is employed in his day job by the state of New Jersey, as director of planning for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which historically has similarly angered people with unilateral land decisions.)

But the state said its timing will stand.

"The project will move forward as scheduled and as expeditiously as possible," said Larry Hajna, spokesman for the state's Department of Environmental Protection, said in an e-mail.

"Every effort will be made to minimize impacts to residents, visitors and business, as is the case with any beach project undertaken by the DEP and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"The project has been a long time coming and is vital to the protection of properties and lives in these important shore resort communities."

A spokesman for LoBiondo, who has championed funding for replenishment, said, via e-mail: "After speaking with the Commissioner, the Congressman spoke with the Army Corps who said an emergency operation elsewhere was the cause of the schedule change for Absecon island. Congressman LoBiondo registered his frustration and deep disappointment with the Army Corps for how this unfolded."

The long delayed and challenged Absecon Island project, which will replenish and build dunes in Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate and Longport has seen three different schedules in recent weeks. Until this week, Ventnor's work was not scheduled in the height of summer.

Ventnor said it would still support the project with a less hurtful time line.

"Ventnor has enthusiastically supported the state and the Corps dune and replenishment work from day one – and we will continue to do so if they adhere to their original time line," the statement continued. "It is important work, but so is the summer tourism season. We simply cannot allow one to jeopardize the other."

Margate, which waged an expensive battle against the project, is now scheduled to have the disruptive 24 hour work on its beaches from mid July on through September.

The $63 million project will pump 3.8 million cubic yards of sand from off shore areas through a series of pipes onto the beaches of the four towns. The work will close 1,000 foot stretches of beach at a time as it moves south, and will result in a network of pipes on beaches for much of the season.

In Ventnor, the main dredge pipe would come onto the beaches near the Ventnor Pier, a main surfing and recreational beach, and the site of beach festivals. In addition, there is all day and night construction noise from the pumping and dune work.

The announced schedule created an outcry among business owners and summer residents alike, with some saying they would cancel their plans, and others worrying about being able to rent out properties.

"Why? Why can't they wait until after Labor Day? Are you kidding me. This is a resort town," said one resident on Facebook.

Longport, which also supported the dune project after years of resisting, is restoring its jetty and seawall on 11th Avenue, and convinced the Army Corps it would be better to leave their town until after Labor Day.

Ventnor already has man-made dunes on much of its beaches from an earlier project (and which also closed beaches during the summer season). Margate beaches are nearly all flat. After its protracted fight, Margate seemed less inclined to battle over timing. "It is what it is," said Mayor Mike Becker.

But Ventnor, which has welcomed the beach work in recent years, feels particularly aggrieved.

Earlier this week, DEP spokesman Larry Hajna noted that delaying the project would invite a collision with the fall's hurricane season. And he said the timing was affected by the legal challenges and by other work being done by the contractor, Weeks Marine.

Despite the frustration it produces, the state and Army Corp dune work has frequently landed in the height of summer. This week, Hajna said the residents should take a less "entitled" view of their natural resources.

"I just don't get New Jerseyans," he said. "This is really important."