Margate is a beach town. That’s why Maxine Garfinkle moved there about 10 years ago, buying a house less than a block from a beach entrance. She’s idled away countless afternoons on the sand over the past decade, relaxing in front of the ocean.
But Garfinkle, 77, said she won’t be visiting the beach as often this summer.
“The climb is too much. We had a wonderful beach before, and Margate wasn’t fair in doing this,” she said.
Last summer, Margate residents complained en masse about an unpopular beach replenishment and dune construction project orchestrated by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that also included the nearby town of Longport. The project in Margate is complete, but the dunes, designed to provide protection against flooding, remain a hindrance for some as summer descends on the town.
The dunes have stretched out beachgoers’ commutes, forcing visitors to walk up and down the structure to reach the sand. It’s been derided as a possible deterrent for disabled people and seniors. According to the Census Bureau, 38.4 percent of Margate’s population is aged 65 years and older.
“I don’t go to the beach as much because it’s a whole big production,” Garfinkle said.
Margate Mayor Michael Becker said June 25 beach tag sales are down 2 percent from last summer. He labeled the downtick an “insignificant” number and insisted many residents’ outlook on the beach situation has improved.
“People have been on the beach since Memorial Day. The majority of them are coming away with satisfactory comments,” Becker said. “It’ll be interesting to see what [tag] sales are at the end of the year.”
The erection of the dunes was met with unrest last summer, interrupting beach days with pipes, bulldozers and the constant din of construction. Pools of murky water accumulated behind the dunes, providing an unappealing backdrop to a beach in flux.
“We’ve done work in many communities in the summer,” said Steve Rochette, spokesperson of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Philadelphia District. “Certainly with the construction and significant rainfall in Margate [last summer] it was a unique circumstance. Sometimes, the work has to happen.”
Margate residents can take solace in knowing the beach won’t be transformed into a construction site this summer. The Army Corps halted on May 1 the building of outfall pipes across the beach designed to drain excess water, having put down two of the five planned pipes. Temporary draining pipes have been built in the three other spots, with work set to resume in the winter.
The dunes have left beach visitors with a lengthy, laborious path to the sand. At the tip of the beach, a lengthy runner extends to the dunes, which are on an incline. Beachgoers then must walk up and down the steep dunes.
Two dune crossovers are handicap accessible, with less steep ramps and longer slopes in addition to resting spots at the top. Becker added that two more dunes are expected to receive similar outfitting when the Army Corps returns.
For some, the modifications aren’t enough. In the past, Garfinkle would attend the beach regularly on the weekends and for about an hour on weekdays after playing in card games. Now she’s not sure what her summer routine will be.
“I’m carrying my chair and my beach bag, and it’s really a lot,” Garfinkle said. “It’s difficult for me.”
Judy Singer, 74, echoed Garfinkle’s frustrations.
“It’s a disgrace. It’s very hard certainly for handicapped individuals and families who are bringing little children and dragging all sorts of equipment and chairs for the entire family,” Singer said.
Compounding frustrations for Margate residents is the city’s lack of a boardwalk, like the one in neighboring Ventnor. A 1944 hurricane wiped out the boardwalks in Ventnor and Margate, and the former decided to rebuild. Margate did not.
In April, Margate resident Glenn Klotz proposed the building of a new city boardwalk to Mayor Michael Becker and the commissioners, who are weighing the logistics of such a project. Becker said he’s waiting to hear back from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection before considering further action.
Singer isn’t buying it. Frustrated by the dunes project, she didn’t express faith in the city’s ability to build a boardwalk.
“It’s a nice thought, but I don’t know if it would ever come to fruition,” she said.