By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Nora Gabra stepped onto the beach at Ninth Street on Sunday and immediately sank down a few inches in the deep, powdery sand.
“I love it. This is nice because it’s almost like being in a theater,” she said of how the beach has been dramatically built up with fresh sand to make it much higher and wider.
The last time Gabra visited Ocean City in September, she found the shoreline much narrower and flatter, the result of coastal storms that left some parts of the beach and dunes badly eroded in the north end of town.
But now, the beaches between Seaview Road and 14th Street have been elevated, widened and rebuilt as part of a $24.4 million replenishment project that added 1.5 million cubic yards of new sand.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that supervises beach restoration work, completed the project on Wednesday. Barring any severe coastal storms in late winter or the spring, Ocean City will now have a pristine beachfront in the north end of the island and downtown area when the throngs of tourists arrive for the summer vacation season.
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.
“This work is vital in protecting our coastal properties, and our beaches will be in great shape for the summer,” Mayor Jay Gillian said in a statement.
Gillian noted that the south end of Ocean City will be part of an estimated $30 million beach replenishment project that includes Strathmere and Sea Isle City. He said that project is expected to be completed sometime after the summer.
Winter visitors to Ocean City are getting their first glimpse of the restored beaches in the north end and downtown areas. Nora Gabra, who lives in West Chester, Pa., was enjoying her Presidents Day weekend getaway at the shore on Sunday when she ventured out onto the beach.
“It is very nice, soft and clean,” she said while gazing out at the expansive beachfront.
Other visitors were similarly impressed with the new beaches. Jeff and Chelsea Jarrell brought their 2-year-old son, Otto, and 10-month-old daughter, Ollie, down to the shore Sunday for a relaxing day trip. They live in Woodbury Heights, N.J.
“They’re clean, accessible and kid-friendly,” Jeff Jarrell said of the restored beaches.
Jarrell struggled to push Otto’s baby stroller through the deep sand on the replenished Eighth Street beach next to the Ocean City Music Pier.
“Pulling it was easy. Pushing it doesn’t work,” he said, smiling, about the stroller being caught in the sand.
The Music Pier, the city’s primary concert and entertainment venue, is protected now by a wide swath of new sand on the ocean side of the historic building. During the 2022 summer tourism season, the beaches on both sides of the Music Pier were narrow, and the surf would wash up under the building at high tide.
Fifth Street’s beach is another area that has been dramatically improved. After an unusually harsh winter at the shore in 2022, a vulnerable stretch of the Fifth Street beach was washed away by storms, leaving the dunes looking like mini-cliffs.
Now, the same area of Fifth Street features a wide beach and no steep drop-offs in the dunes.
Beach restoration in Ocean City is an ongoing process. Initially, it 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. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is another government partner that shares the cost of the beach replenishment projects.
This was the 10th beachfill project for the north end of Ocean City since the 50-year agreement began.
Gillian thanked the Army Corps, the NJDEP and the contractor, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., for the project. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock started the work in November.
Although the contractor has completed the beach restoration work, it still must remove some of the massive pipes and pieces of heavy construction equipment used for the job.
A big, floating dredge, named Texas, was anchored offshore to pump sand from the Great Egg Harbor Inlet onto the beaches through a system of giant pipes.
In addition to the 1.5 million cubic yards of new sand, Ocean City exercised an option in the contract for four stockpiles of sand. It has given the city an additional 10,000 cubic yards of sand that it may use at its discretion to patch up or replenish the beach if any erosion occurs later on.