New Jersey beaches have certainly taken a hit this summer under Gov. Chris Christie’s 127-mile beach project down the coastline — closing some beaches and diminishing tourism — and the Margate community might be getting the brunt of it.
Christie championed the $63 million beach replenishment and dune project led by the Army Corps of Engineers — taking place during the height of the summer.
Locals fought against the constant construction that occupies a half-mile stretch of the 2-mile-long beach and that resulted in large, gaping ponds full of murky water.
Last week, Judge Julio Mendez in Atlantic County Superior Court, ruled to temporarily halt the project for seven days as it was intruding on locals’ rights to “enjoy the natural resources” of the beach, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The project intends to dig trenches behind the dunes to store contaminated storm water, which would then drain into the beach and the ocean.
“Lake Christie,” as the muddy pools have been unofficially dubbed, has continued to overflow with unsafe water, however, even more so from heavy rainfall this week.
Margate’s residents have questioned whether the timing of this project is retaliation against the community, which has been opposed to the project for years (and who Christie called “selfish” for resisting).
But a state Department of Environmental Protection attorney and assistant attorney general told the Inquirer that working around the summer would escalate costs: Ceasing construction would cost about $100,000 a day.
Another hearing on how to remedy the situation is set for Aug. 11.
Many Margate businesses continue to feel the effect of the dune project, seeing fewer customers at restaurants and stores, and even fewer by way of foot. Others have fled to neighboring beaches to enjoy what’s left of the summer sun.
Margate Business Association President Ed Berger told the Press of Atlantic City that real estate and summer rentals are hurting, too, because people are waiting to see what happens with the dunes first before they buy.
He noted one business’ sales are down 40 percent from last year.
“We want everybody to understand that when you talk about the impact it has on business, you’re not talking about the impact it has on Macy’s or Home Depot. They are individually owned businesses owned by families, families that were severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy years ago,” Berger told the Press. “They really had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and really dig deep into their savings to not only put their businesses but also their homes back together again.”
Surprisingly, not all businesses have been negatively affected.
Richard “Buddy” Della Fave has only owned Downbeach Deli on South Essex Avenue for a year, but he said profits are better than last summer.
“I’m happy,” he laughed, “but I do feel they picked a horrible time and season to do it, and we’d be having an even better summer than we’re having, maybe.”
At the height of the season, Della Fave credits this turnaround to a boost in the economy, and “people are a little bit more confident this year so they’re spending some more money.”
It’s hard to say how many fewer people are frequenting the area, though, as rental properties and hotels are also struggling.
The gaping dunes are visible from the New York-style Jewish deli. Customers and friends told Della Fave that those living even closer to the dunes are now experiencing flooding on their blocks, which was never a problem before.
“They could have done this at any other time. I don’t understand why they picked us for the height of the season,” he said.
But within the Jewish community, most of the impact falls on residents.
Longtime year-round resident Louise Perlman lives about two blocks from the dune project, which has raised concerns for her and her family.
“It’s basically affected us by taking away our ability to use the beach,” she said, noting that she hasn’t gone for several weeks. “It’s still not ideal.”
Overall, Perlman said the project has impacted the community’s morale.
“People are worried about their real estate values going down. People are just disgusted,” she said. “If they had to do the [project], they could have waited until October.”
By Labor Day, most vacationers leave Margate, so Perlman said if the project started in the fall, it would have affected fewer people.
Susan Miller lives close to the dunes, too: Construction started on Argyle Avenue and continued down (alphabetically) to Iroquois Avenue when workers were stopped last week. Miller’s on Clermont Avenue.
She said she immediately was affected by the replenishment in early July.
“The beach was closed for a couple weeks and then … they were working on the dunes with construction vehicles,” she recalled.
Miller, who has lived there for more than 10 years, often resides in her Margate home on the weekends with her family, including 5- and 8-year-old grandchildren.
The beach is open, but she said the constructed, sandy walkways to get around the dunes to the beach are inconvenient and hard to walk across.
“It’s difficult for people who can’t walk well and the elderly and disabled,” she added of climbing up and down the steep, hilly dunes. “[And] difficult when you’re with children and pulling one of those [beach] carts.”
She’s seen others opt for a faster route — through the water.
Some areas were drained, but Miller described it as still a “muddy swamp.” This week’s recent rain flooded the ponds, too.
“To get to the beach you’d have to walk through the water,” she said. She’s seen locals wade through knee-deep water.
A lot of locals drive to other beaches, which Miller said have become overcrowded. It’s hard to find parking, especially given that other New Jersey beaches are now closed.
Fifteen of the beaches were briefly closed on July 27 due to high levels of bacteria, per the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Currently, only three in Atlantic City are on temporary leave.
As a result, Miller said, she hasn’t frequented the beach with her family as much as she usually does in the summer.
“The beach is much uglier than it used to be,” she said. “Part of Margate’s done, and part of Margate’s not done.”
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