OCEAN CITY, N.J. - Sand is the hot commodity on the Jersey Shore. Not light sweet crude oil. Not gold.
So when a rare late-season nor'easter carried thousands of cubic yards of the stuff out to sea May 12, less than two weeks before the Memorial Day weekend, officials went into overdrive repairing their eroded strands for the coming horde.
It has paid off, they say. South Jersey's beaches are ready for business.
In Beach Haven, Ocean City and Avalon, crews worked nearly around the clock to replace sand and rebuild beach access.
In less-affected areas, such as Sea Isle City and Cape May, officials addressed moderate damage and will let Mother Nature return what she took away.
"It's all about the beaches here, and when people arrive for the weekend or for a vacation, they expect to see them in order. That's where we can help," said Steve Hafner, a coastal geologist at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, whose Coastal Research Center helps municipalities and the state determine the best way to tackle erosion.
Almost as soon as the storm's near-hurricane winds died and the tide receded, Hafner and his crew began touring spots up and down the coast. With digital equipment such as LIDAR (light detection and ranging) to measure sea depths and dune heights, center experts determined the level of sand displacement, Hafner said.
Steep cliffs, some 20 feet high, were carved into dunes in Brigantine, Atlantic City, Ocean City and Avalon and on much of Long Beach Island. At high tide, some locations didn't even have room for a beach blanket.
In Avalon and Beach Haven, just getting to the beach was a problem. Wooden paths and stairs had been whipped away by winds up to 78 m.p.h.
Municipal officials didn't need a coastal geologist to tell them they had an urgent problem. A bad first impression on Memorial Day can ripple throughout the summer season, they say.
"We got right on grooming and preparing all of our beaches that aren't slated to be part of our beach-replenishment project," said Jim Rutala, Ocean City's business administrator.
In Beach Haven, where Mayor Thomas J. Stewart declared the all-clear on Wednesday, dozens and dozens of truckloads of sand were purchased at the Long Beach Island town's expense and dumped on about 12 beaches.
Ocean City lucked out. A $6 million beach-replenishment project was supposed to begin earlier this spring, Rutala said, but state funding issues delayed the start - to two days after the storm.
Expected to be completed in mid-June, the replenishment will pump 600,000 cubic yards of sand on beaches between North Street and 12th Street, the area hardest hit, Rutala said.
In Avalon, where north-end beaches were pummeled, a previously planned $1.5 million state and local project also was fortuitously timed.
Seven dump trucks hauled nearly a hundred loads from a mainland sand pit last week. Avalon public-works crews used front-end loaders and other equipment to spread and smooth the sand on the beach between 10th and 20th Streets, said Scott Wahl, a spokesman for the town.
"We're in a lot better shape now," said Wahl, whose crews replaced stairs, walkways, and other beach-access infrastructure that had been destroyed.
In Surf City, the problem wasn't lack of sand but a bounty of World War I-era artillery components.
Thirteen boosters and fuses resembling rusty pipes were found on the shoreline last week. They were the latest munitions uncovered in Surf City since more than 1,100 were found last summer after a replenishment project dredged them up from offshore.
Erosion is never an issue in Wildwood. With a beach nearly a half-mile at its widest, the resort was voted best overall this year in the state's first Top 10 Beaches contest, sponsored by the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium.
If anything, town officials joke, Wildwood benefits from the misfortune of its neighbors to the north.
They "should color their beach sand so we'll know who to return it to when it washes ashore down here," City Commissioner Bill Davenport said last week.
"People come to the Jersey Shore for the beautiful beaches. That never changes," said Janice Murdough, whose family has operated a Christmas-themed gift shop in Stone Harbor for 50 years.
"As long as the beaches are ready for visitors, then the towns are ready for anything."