OCEAN CITY, N.J. - At the north end of town, a 309-foot dredge operated by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. of Oak Brook, Ill., has been operating 24 hours a day for several days, in a project that will pump 1.8 million cubic yards of sand from the ocean floor onto the beaches.

There's no such whoosh of beach-rebuilding at the south end, leaving homeowners there puzzled and upset, especially since Sandy left their shoreline in even worse shape.

City officials said that the north-end project was in the works even before the storm struck and that they are unsure what federal aid might be forthcoming to do more right away.

That's not a good enough explanation for south-end homeowners, many of whom also depend on vacation-rental income.

"What's it going to be like when all these people who've rented homes here arrive for the summer and find out there is virtually no beach left in front of where they've rented a home?" Thad Kirk said.

He is among the homeowners who have inundated officials with requests to piggyback the rebuilding of south-end beaches onto the north-end project.

On Thursday, for the second time in a week, Kirk and others plan to bring their angst before the City Council. At a council meeting last Thursday - attended by more than 100 people - Kirk presented more than 200 letters from south-end residents pleading for relief.

"Even before Sandy hit, most of the beach there was already under water at high tide. Now it's all the time. . . . Now it's dangerous," Kirk said, citing flooding concerns.

Kirk said experts including Stewart Farrell, founder and director of the Coastal Research Center at Richard Stockton College, have estimated that as much as 600,000 cubic yards of sand may be needed to replenish the south-end beaches denuded in the storm. Farrell could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Officials contend they are working on a solution and waiting for direction - and Sandy relief aid - from the federal government.

Ocean City's south end was among the hardest-hit areas in Cape May and Atlantic Counties when the storm roared ashore Oct. 29, crumbling bridges and sections of boardwalks, damaging homes and businesses, and washing away protective dunes and chunks of beachfront along New Jersey's 127-mile coastline.

In spots along the mile-long stretch in Ocean City between 50th and 59th Streets, there is virtually no beach left. At high tide, waves lap over the bulkhead that separates the beachfront from the street ends and the backyards of houses lining the sea, sometimes flooding those yards.

Eight-foot-high dunes, which once protected against such flooding, are gone. Another storm could mean widespread flooding for the entire south end, which is less than a quarter-mile across at its widest point.

"All of the homes in the south end have been left completely vulnerable . . . and there is no plan to do anything about it," said Kirk, saying Ocean City could earn a black eye if vacationers turned away from still-devastated North Jersey beach towns look for a place to vacation here.

"These people are going to come here and get angry and never come back. It could affect vacation revenues and property values for years to come," Kirk said.

Others put it more simply. "We need sand and we need it this year," said Al Grohe, also a resident of the south end.

At the council meeting last week, officials said the city would prefer to move ahead with a beach replenishment project for the south end that has already been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers - in which the city would pay only about 8 percent of the total cost and would include a beach refill every three years - that is not scheduled to begin until later this year at the earliest.

In the meantime, the city would float a bond for $2.7 million to replace the south end dunes lost in the storm, and plant dune grass and place fencing to bolster them. The plan also includes trucking in about 50,000 cubic yards of sand to help shore up the south end before summer.

At the meeting, Mike Dattilo, the city's business administrator, said state officials and the federal government had been noncommittal about how or when disaster relief funds would be distributed.

He said environmental concerns about the endangered nesting piping plover, with a nesting season directly on the beachfront that begins March 15 and runs through August, could also thwart any plans for an immediate beach fill. The bird tends to prefer the less populous south end.

The $15.8 million project to replenish beaches along the island's north end, between Beach Road and 14th Street, began this month.

Officials said the project is part of a multiyear plan to continue to fatten beaches along the two-mile north end stretch after a massive beach fill was completed several years ago.

In the wake of Sandy, the federal government added $5.5 million to funding for the project, which is expected to be finished by summer.

Dattilo could not be reached for further comment.

Chris Fotache, who operates an online Jersey Shore vacation rental website called shorevacations.com, said it was imperative that towns like Ocean City put their best foot forward to visitors this summer.

"There is a misconception that all of the Jersey Shore was damaged by the storm, so when the vacationers arrive, they must see that this is not the case," Fotache said. "Everybody has to be hard-pressed right now to get everything in order, because all these small businesses and these homeowners who rent out their homes have three months to make their money . . . and keep their businesses going so they don't go bankrupt or lose their homes."

Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at philly.com/downashore. Follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo.