OCEAN CITY, N.J. - When a hundred or so suit-wearing, briefcase-carrying business owners plunge into the 57-degree ocean at noon Friday to signify the "unlocking" of the resort's beaches, they'll be hoping the world is watching.
Jersey Shore towns are seeking the attention more this holiday weekend than ever in the history of the decades-old event, repeated up and down the coast annually to signify the unofficial start of the lucrative summer tourist season.
The message is loud and clear: The beaches are fine. Come on down!
When Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New Jersey Shore seven months ago wreaking havoc on parts of the state's 127-mile coastline, it created an impression of widespread ruin that areas less affected by the storm - including Ocean City in Cape May County - are still trying to combat.
That's why Gov. Christie agreed to do a national morning news show Friday from Seaside Heights in Ocean County and cut a ribbon - symbolically as long as the state's oceanfront - to spread the word that New Jersey's beaches are open and ready for business.
On Tuesday, President Obama is expected to walk the boardwalks with the governor again, this time for a checkup on how the affected towns are faring.
Sandy's bashing did make the feat of preparing those beaches in time for the holiday a little dicey this year.
Over most winters, the beaches take a pretty good battering from nor'easters and other storms.
But Sandy, the largest such storm to ever make landfall in the Garden State, left a more significant mark than most offseason weather events, damaging some 346,000 homes in coastal areas and creating more than $38 billion in storm-related damage.
On the barrier islands - where millions of visitors throng each summer to enjoy the sun and sand - the beaches bore the brunt of the storm.
In the Ocean County town of Mantoloking, the beaches were so denuded that floodwaters were able to cut a new inlet through the center of town.
Way down at Cape May, a pile of sand eight feet high, four lanes wide, and one block long was deposited from nearby beaches onto the town's beachfront avenue.
In Ocean City, most of a deeply established dune line, that ran nearly seven miles, washed away. Some beaches went from 1,200 feet wide to nearly underwater at high tide.
"We knew that no matter what we had to confront, we had to get it done by this weekend. . . . The beaches are why the visitors come to the shore," said Michael Dattilo, Ocean City's business administrator.
For weeks, an offshore dredge has been working round the clock to pump 1.8 million cubic yards of sand onto Ocean City's north-end beaches. The project, being completed by the Army Corp of Engineers as part of a beach-renourishing project planned before Sandy hit, won't be finished for a few more weeks. A beach fill for the city's south end, where truckloads of sand have been brought in to temporarily fatten the strands after the storm, is scheduled to begin in the fall.
In the meantime, Dattilo insists that visitors will find nearly all of Ocean City's beaches "as good or significantly better" than they were before the storm hit on Oct. 29.
That's what officials in other Cape May County beach towns, along with those in Atlantic County, have said about their beaches, where a significant amount of grooming has been accomplished to make their beaches summer-ready, officials said.
None suffered damage as significant, though, as places like the Ocean County towns of Mantoloking and Ortley Beach and Seaside Heights. There, some businesses, private properties, and beaches are open for summer; others still are being worked on.
But, down south, there was plenty of preparation to do, according to Kevin Yecco, borough clerk of Wildwood Crest, one of three towns collectively known as "The Wildwoods" that by accident of geography appear to be a magnet for eroded sand from surrounding resorts.
"If they could color-code their sand, we would know where to send it when it collects on our beaches," joked Yecco, noting that his town has had to spend nearly a million dollars to extend storm-drain outfall pipes because of the widening that recently occurred on the beaches.
After Sandy - and last summer's destructive June derecho storm - Wildwood Crest and its neighbors had to rebuild dunes that were destroyed by flood tides that washed beneath the boardwalk. Public-works crews also had to "regrade" the beach because of all the sand that got moved around by the storms. Beach widths in the town range from 700 to 800 feet to as wide as 1,400 feet.
In Atlantic City, perhaps the granddaddy of East Coast beach spots, the dunes once considered controversial because they blocked the ocean view from the boardwalk, protected expensive casino real estate during Sandy. But most of the dunes washed away in the severe storm. A beach-replenishment project scheduled to have begun over the winter has been delayed until mid-June, and a dune-replacement project will follow, said Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise.
After Sandy, the strands are as skinny as 120 feet north of the Steel Pier. But all the beaches will be open and guarded by the beach patrol throughout the summer, Aluise said.
That's the sentiment in Long Beach Township, on Long Beach Island, a quirkily-shaped 12-mile long municipality "scattered" between other the towns, such as Beach Haven, Ship Bottom, and Surf City, on the southern Ocean County barrier island.
"We have been very proactive getting everything in order, and our beaches look phenomenal," Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini said of his municipality, which was among those hit hardest by Sandy.
Mancini said 54 beaches would be guarded and open all summer in his town, while about 20 badly eroded areas would be worked on over the course of the season. When a major beach-replenishment project gets underway soon in the township's Brant Beach section, the town will provide free bus service so beachgoers can use nearby beaches.
"Sandy created a lot of problems, but we're coming back stronger than before, especially our beaches," Mancini said. "We're determined to have a great summer."
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