Nothing illustrates the need to shore up the dunes along the Bayshore more dramatically than the March 13 nor ’easter, which cut a 20-foot-wide fissure into the dunes at Point Comfort in Keansburg. The dune system continues to erode with each storm, with no relief in site.
That’s why I am urging state and federal shore protection and maritime resource agencies to support a new plan to replenish these weak spots before it’s more than a small breach.
Current maintenance plans call for filling these breaches after they occur. But this reactive approach is not fully protective because it does not solve the problem. We need to have a proactive plan rather than reactive one that does not fully protect vulnerable areas.
Had the state had been maintaining these levees all along we would not have this constant risk of flooding, which has forced hundreds of Bayshore residents to buy federal flood insurance.
While it may not be feasible to bring the entire dune system up to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) standards, it may be possible to link existing federal dredging programs with local shore protection programs to develop a more proactive plan to periodically replenish the most vulnerable segments of the dunes.
We can take clean sand dredged from nearby federal channels such as the Sandy Hook channel, the Raritan Bay channel and the Shrewsbury River entrance channel and use it to replenish historically weak spots in the Bayshore dunes. Since dune breaching during storms is often accompanied by shoaling in local navigation channels, this would be an efficient approach.
The proposed plan is consistent with Dredged Material Management Plans prepared previously by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council, which states “The planned Raritan Bay – Sandy Hook Bay Hurricane and Storm Reduction Plan presents an opportunity to use dredged material for flood prevention and control.”
Beach nourishment projects elsewhere are already accepting sand dredged from local federal channels. It is projected that deepening the New York Harbor’s federal navigation channels to 50 feet would generate more than 2 million cubic yards of sand. Sand dredged during the deepening of the Ambrose Federal Navigation Channel may potentially serve as a source for beach nourishment.
Such a plan would require some additional funding and a fair amount of coordination between federal, state and county government agencies as well as local communities, including the Army Corps, the state Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of Maritime Resources, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Bureau of Coastal Engineering and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Representatives from the local communities would have to request a site visit by the Army Corps of Engineers. The need to repair the dunes would be the driving force needed for Army Corps involvement. The Army Corps can then inspect the dunes and make the recommendation that clean sand dredged from nearby federal channels be used to fortify the dune levee system.
The current Army Corps project to dredge the shipping lanes of the harbor estuary to 50-foot depths has a $1.6 billion budget, Burry said. Therefore, it is possible that some existing dredging fund could be leveraged to accommodate the proposed replenishment plan.
Some areas of Keansburg and Hazlet lie anywhere from 2 to 6 feet below the base flood elevation and rely on the dune levee system for storm protection. These areas would be completely inundated during a severe coastal storm if the dune system should fail. Of particular concern now would be a second storm occurring before the breaches from a previous storm could be repaired.
The Keansburg-Port Monmouth dune was built in 1968. The state DEP has not maintained the dune and its thickness has deteriorated by 50 percent, leaving the areas susceptible to flooding.
In 2008, my urging, Monmouth County went to court to delay FEMA from implementing its new flood zone maps. Citing a report that the levees were no longer effective protection against tidal storms, FEMA included some 1,400 homes in the Bayshore in the new flood zone maps, forcing residents to purchase federal flood insurance.
My criticism of the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for allowing a levee system built in the 1970s to deteriorate and become an inadequate protection against storms is widely known.
Unfortunately, these dunes have not been maintained, and their overall thickness has decreased significantly over the past few decades. Our goal is to protect the lives and property of our residents. We cannot compromise their safety.
Our long-term objective is to prevent flooding from ever occurring again.
* Lillian G. Burry is director of the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders.