MARGATE, N.J. — This beach town whose citizens suffered through a summer of disruption and pop-up beach lakes due to beach replenishment the town did not want could be in for a second round.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday that a permanent solution to drainage issues exacerbated last summer by the government's beach replenishment design could disrupt a second summer on the beaches in Margate — a scenario the town's mayor says he was assured would not happen.
The $7 million permanent drainage system of five outfall pipes, agreed to by the City of Margate and funded by the Army Corps, will begin construction in January and take a year to complete, said Steve Rochette of the Army Corps.
No decision has been made whether to halt that construction during the summer months, Rochette said.
"At this time, the final decision has not been made," Rochette said in an e-mail in response to questions. "It's being evaluated as part of the ongoing negotiations to complete the work. If it does not affect the cost or significantly increase the completion date of the work, we would expect work to stop for the summer of 2018."
Unsightly orange pumps will remain on at least some beaches until the work is completed, he said.
"The automated pumps will remain on station until the area they are serving has the permanent drainage system complete and fully operational," Rochette said. "USACE is working closely with the City of Margate and the NJDEP on a construction plan that will separate the work into five separate systems. When each area is complete, the pumps and temporary measures in that area will be removed."
Mayor Mike Becker said he was surprised at the Army Corps' position and said the city's understanding was that no work would be done during the summer.
Becker said he expected to see a final contract this week that includes a prohibition on summer work. He could not say what the city would do if the contract lacked such a provision. "From day one, we told them we don't want them on our beaches."
The Army Corps' beach replenishment and dune construction work during the height of last summer in Margate, a town that fought the project in an expensive and unsuccessful effort, set off a summer fiasco of disruption, dismay and beach closures. Predictions that the design would trap water behind the dunes proved accurate, and large lakes of standing storm water after heavy rains led a judge to temporarily shut down the project.
Asked if the Army Corps would have done anything differently last summer, Rochette said it would have asked Margate to address drainage issues prior to the start of the project. Margate for decades dealt with storm water drainage by digging trenches along its flat beaches to scuppers in its wooden bulkhead. In legal action it initiated to try to stop the project, the town produced experts who predicted that building the dunes would create a ponding effect and lead to hazardous pools of standing water.
The Army Corps and the state insisted that the predictions were overblown, and that any rain water would percolate into the sand within a day. A federal judge called the scenario "fantastical" but it proved largely accurate. Last summer, the Corps brought in small pumps to dry out the beach and constructed elevated sand walkways. The smaller pumps were replaced with larger orange temporary pumping systems, which remain on the beach at various streets.
Gov. Christie had ordered dune and beach replenishment along the state's 127-mile coastline, and judges ultimately continued the project while requiring the state and Army Corps to come up with a solution to the drainage problems.
That permanent solution, which the Army Corps will pay for, will consist of outfall pipes connected by a pipe under the beach that will run parallel to the ocean, Rochette said.
"In hindsight, we would not have constructed the project until the municipality addressed drainage issues," Rochette wrote in the email. "And we are doing something differently now, while the project is still under construction. In Margate, we encountered unique stormwater management challenges and water did not percolate behind the dunes as we anticipated. We worked to manage the situation with interim measures and are working toward a long-term solution."
He said the Army Corps would continue to work with the state's Department of Environmental Protection, "as we've done for more than 25 years — to build projects that reduce the risk of storm damages for coastal communities."
In neighboring Longport, meanwhile, similar beach replenishment and dune work was taking place this week in the relative calm of the off season.
Rochette said no drainage issues had been encountered in Longport, which has a different system than Margate. In any case, with the town empty of its summer residents, there were few people around to complain, except on Facebook. "Didn't the state learn enough from the Margate disaster?" said one resident after seeing photos of Longport replenishment.
In Longport, the state built up a rock wall on its 11th Avenue border, fortifying what had been a loose collection of boulders, but also creating a wall that is six feet high at points. One resident of 11th Avenue, a street where Hurricane Sandy's winds and waves pushed boulders into garages, said the new wall was welcome as storm protection, but cast an unwelcome visual block on the ground floor and street.
He said people who regularly drove up the street to see the ocean now stopped their cars and got out to see, creating some congestion. "This is the trade-off," said the resident, who did not wish to be named. "It's the right height for storm protection. It's Longport's wailing wall."