Margate’s Blumberg Warned of Dune Downsides and ‘Government Knows Best’

Back in 2015, Margate Commissioner Maury Blumberg officially warned everyone via a newspaper editorial, that erecting 13 ft sand dunes along our beaches was wrong, and ultimately harmful for Margate. It’s worth a read again, as Margate faces another jam-down of ‘government knows best’. A massive outfall drainage project is planned for our Margate beaches in Spring 2018.

Blumberg: It is often said that perception is reality, but nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Margate’s opposition to the Army Corps of Engineers beach project, which includes dunes.

So much is misunderstood about why Margate citizens oppose this colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. It’s time to clarify what we believe and why.

Perhaps the most common misconception is that the opposition stems mostly from a privileged few beachfront homeowners who simply want to preserve their ocean views. The fact is that this has been the subject of two separate referendums in Margate, and on both occasions city residents have made it clear that the project is neither needed nor wanted. Furthermore, the vast majority of beachfront and beach-block homeowners cannot even vote in Margate because it isn’t their primary residence.

The “ocean view” narrative is one that Gov. Christie seems to believe despite no evidence to support that idea. His perception is undoubtedly influenced by what happened in Harvey Cedars, where it was a few beachfront homeowners who opposed the construction of dunes there.

Margate isn’t Harvey Cedars.

Our beach is different, our existing protection mechanisms are different, and our flooding problems are different. But the “one size fits all” Army Corps project doesn’t allow for any such differences.

Another common misperception is that Margate citizens are willing to roll the dice and take our chances that we won’t get hit by the next big storm. What they are missing is that, unlike most other New Jersey shore towns, Margate has a formidable bulkhead system that spans the entire length of its beachfront. That bulkhead provides far greater protection than any manmade wall of sand, and it’s far more cost-effective.

A pile of sand will wash away within the first hours of any major storm.

The city’s bulkheads have protected us during Hurricane Sandy and every other storm for the past 70 years.

Our flooding issues during each and every storm we’ve experienced for as long as anyone can remember are primarily on the bay side of the island, and the project will do nothing to address that.

After Sandy, there were 998 construction permits issued in Margate. Two of those were on beach blocks.

That is remarkable, and even more so since city government made a well-intentioned but misguided decision to pile up sand in front of the bulkheads prior to the storm, thus effectively creating a launching pad for the waves and sand. Had the bulkheads been left alone or, better yet, had sand removed from in front of them in advance of the storm, our beach blocks would have fared even better.

Another misconception is the appearance of the dune itself. Most people think of the idyllic imagery of naturally occurring dunes, such as those found on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and even some beaches in New Jersey. This project would look nothing like that. It is an unsightly pile of sand that would have all sorts of negative ramifications, including drainage, ponding of dirty water, handicap access and recreational limitations.

There are also public safety issues. In Cape May County, for example, there is ample evidence that the steep shore break resulting from beach protection and replenishment projects has contributed to a sharp increase in injuries, including a teen who suffered a broken neck in August.

Finally, there seems to be a belief among some that the project must be good for us because the state and the Department of Environmental Protection say it is. This is a classic case of “big government knows what’s best for you.” The reality is that, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help” is often code for “You will pay for this and like it, whether you need it or not.”

In a statement that was perhaps more revealing than intended, an Army Corps spokesperson, when questioned by Tim Cavanaugh of the National Review about the project as it relates to possible remediation or reinforcement of barriers to rising bay waters, replied, “We don’t have a mandate to go out and do good things.”

In a column that appeared in The New York Times in 2014 about a proposed Army Corps beach project for Fire Island, the author, a coastal engineering expert, wrote, “The corps relied on old science or no science to build a case for the benefits. … This is the new post-Sandy model. We now favor political expediency over science and action over a thoughtful evaluation of its long-term consequences.”

For Margate, the beach project is the wrong solution for the wrong problem.

Maury Blumberg is a Margate city commissioner and has a degree in engineering science from Vanderbilt University.

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