By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Yikes! Ocean City has been invaded by a gigantic CRAB.
But this is not your run-of-the-mill Jersey Shore crab that has claws, beady eyes and darts along the sand while trying to avoid becoming some seagull’s yucky dinner.
This CRAB is part of an army of heavy construction equipment being assembled on the beaches as part of a nearly $24.4 million project to replenish Ocean City’s eroded shoreline with 1.5 million cubic yards of fresh sand.
CRAB stands for “Coastal Research Amphibious Buggy.” The massive piece of machinery stands 33 feet high and lurches along the sand at speeds of up to 6 mph while surveying the beaches.
The three-legged contraption, which looks like something straight out of an alien invasion movie, is lurking now over the beaches near Gardens Road in the north end of town.
It will play a key role in the beach replenishment project. Moving along both in the water and on land, it deploys instruments on the bottom of the ocean, collecting data to monitor the progress of the project, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The CRAB is joined by bulldozers, excavators, pipes and other equipment that will be used by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., the contractor hired by the Army Corps of Engineers to replenish Ocean City’s beaches.
The project is expected to begin any day now. A big, floating dredge, named Texas, will be anchored offshore to pump sand from the Great Egg Harbor Inlet onto the beaches through a system of massive pipes.
Beaches in the north end and the downtown area will be replenished. The project will stretch from the Seaview Road jetty to 14th Street. Originally, the project called for 1.2 million cubic yards of new sand. However, surveys revealed that more sand would be required, so the amount has been increased to 1.5 million cubic yards.
As a result, the cost of the project has increased from $21.5 million to nearly $24.4 million, said Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers.
Ocean City officials welcomed the news that more sand has been added to the project. City Business Administrator George Savastano noted that there are parts of the beachfront in the north end of town that have suffered significant erosion, primarily from 5th to 7th streets.
“From the north end to 13th Street, we need beach replenishment in all areas,” Savastano said. “We have some pockets where it’s the worst.”
Ocean City is exercising an option in the contract for four stockpiles of sand – an additional 10,000 cubic yards of sand in total – for use after the replenishment project is completed.
“Our contractor would leave the sand in these stockpiles for the city to redistribute and shape for local dunes or other use as they see fit,” Rochette said.
The replenishment project will help the tourist-dependent city keep its beaches in pristine shape to the delight of summer vacationers.
Wide, powdery beaches are not only aesthetically pleasing, but the bigger barrier of sand also helps to protect homes, businesses, the Boardwalk and roads from the ocean’s storm surge.
The project is expected to take two or three months to complete, Savastano said. Once sand-pumping operations begin, work will proceed around-the-clock, seven days a week.
Restrictions will be in place to minimize any conflicts between beachgoers and the network of pipes and heavy equipment used by the contractor. No more than 1,000 feet of the beach will be closed at any one time while the work proceeds.
Barriers and “Danger” signs warning beachgoers to keep out of the construction area have already been erected at St. Charles Place.
Beach restoration in Ocean City initially was done in 1992 and continues on a three-year cycle under a 50-year agreement between the town and the Army Corps of Engineers.
This will be the 10th beachfill project for the north end of Ocean City since the 50-year agreement began. In October, Mayor Jay Gillian praised the partnership involving different levels of government to protect Ocean City from the ocean’s wrath.
The cost of the beach project will be split between the Army Corps of Engineers, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Ocean City. The Army Corps, a federal agency, will pay most of the cost.
In a separate project estimated to cost $30 million, the shoreline in Ocean City’s south end will be replenished in 2023 along with the beaches in Strathmere and Sea Isle City, it was announced earlier this year. The contract for that project still must be awarded by the Army Corps.