OCEAN CITY, N.J. - A beach-replenishment project on a 2.6-mile stretch along the south end of this popular vacation resort, originally scheduled to take all summer to complete, will likely be finished by midseason, according to officials.
And the idea that the huge, noisy machines and pipes gushing sandy slurry will be gone from the shoreline by early July is making a lot of locals and visitors in this Cape May County beach town very happy.
The process involves closing off the beach in two-block-long sections as the dredge and other equipment pumps the 1.6 million cubic yards of sand that will be pulled from an underwater borrow site about a mile offshore.
"I think we're all breathing a little easier," said Michael Monihan, owner and broker at Monihan Realty in Ocean City, of the announcement made late last month by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Monihan's agency is among more than a dozen catering to the local summer rental market - a collection of an estimated 10,000 units, the largest concentration of such properties along the southern Jersey Shore.
Monihan said that since contracts were being signed and deposits were being collected now for this summer's rentals on houses located where the beach-replenishment project will take place - between 34th and 50th Streets - renters are being informed about it.
"We don't want anyone to be surprised that this is going on, so we tell them about it up-front," Monihan said.
But no one can predict the precise two blocks where the operation will be taking place at any given moment over the 21/2-month duration - so there is no way to know whether it will be ongoing at the exact location where someone has chosen to plunk down up to $18,000 a week on a killer view and lavish digs.
"We've had a couple of people cancel when they heard about it," Monihan said. "And then when they heard it should be finished by the time they arrive, they reinstated. Most people have said they will just take their chances and do their usual rental and hope for the best. Some people decided to book farther north of the project on the island."
But Monihan and other real estate agents said most people seem to take the entire idea of beach replenishment in stride. Rebuilding beaches and dunes along the coast has been an ongoing process along the Shore since the 1980s.
"Some people actually like it. . . . They like seeing the process," said Bill Godfrey, an agent with the Marr Agency in Ocean City.
Monihan has even suggested to some of his client landlords that they offer their renters a small discount or a free weekend at the property during the fall if they receive complaints about the project during someone's vacation.
"Some have been every receptive to that idea," Monihan said.
This $57.6 million project was approved in 2007, but received full funding as part of the federal government's Hurricane Sandy relief package last year. It also includes replenishment for beaches in Strathmere, Upper Township, and in the northern end of Sea Isle City.
The schedule is being moved up because good weather has allowed projects being done in other parts of the country by the contractor, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock of Oak Brook, Ill., to finish sooner, according to Michael Dattilo, an aide to Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian.
Dattilo said that barring any issues with the weather once the project gets underway April 15, it should be finished by about July 5.
"July 5 is the projected finish date, but it could go longer if there are unforeseen problems with the weather or the equipment," Dattilo said.
In the meantime, others are applauding the schedule change.
"We would have rented anyway because we always get the same house on the same week every year," said Jane Simmons, 67, of Bridgeton, who rents a home for two weeks in August in the 4300 block of Central Avenue with her three sisters. "But it is a relief to know [the project] should be done by the time we come down in August."
Simmons and her family have had vacations where they've had to forgo the lovely view of the waves and the sound of the surf and endure the incessant drone of the dredge and annoying spotlights shining into their windows in the overnight hours while the pumping operation continued round the clock.
"You just keep telling yourself that the beach will be even better next summer and that this is all part of the process," Simmons said.
Dattilo contends that the city receives far fewer complaints about such projects "than you might think."
"We've been doing it so long that I think most people understand what we are trying to accomplish," Dattilo said. "And we try to make it as convenient as possible for them so they still enjoy their summer vacation."
So closing off only one two-block section of the beach at a time means that beachgoers may need to travel only a block or so farther to get to the water. The city is also going to run shuttles along Central Avenue to move people away from areas where the operation will be occurring, Dattilo said.
"We like to come down in June and we like the south end of Ocean City, so we'll be here. . . . We'll take our chances," said Jeanine Regalbuto, 46, of South Philadelphia on a recent trip to find a rental to spend part of her summer with her husband and three children. "We're pretty tough."