DEP to Dredge Boat Channel for Little Egg InletSand Will Be Used to Replenish Southern LBI Beaches
The N.J. Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Coastal Engineering is expediting a project to clear dangerous shoals from Little Egg Inlet, a major thoroughfare for boat traffic between southern Long Beach Island and Brigantine to the south. The dredged sand will be used to replenish beaches on portions of southern Long Beach Island.
At the direction of DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, the division is currently developing permit applications, design plans and contract specifications and expects to go out to bid for the multimillion-dollar project next month.
“This situation has become critical so we are moving forward, using state money, to dredge the channel and make it safe again for everyone who needs this vital access for fishing and recreation,” Martin said. “We need to take action to get this channel dredged for the safety and enjoyment of the public this summer season.”
Last week the U.S. Coast Guard pulled buoys marking the channel due to concerns that the sand buildup prohibits safe passage of vessels, and it warned boaters that if they use the inlet, they would be doing so at their own risk.
“One of the widest ocean inlets in New Jersey, Little Egg Harbor Inlet is extremely dynamic, with shoals constantly shifting with the seasons,” the DEP explained. “A federally marked waterway, the inlet has never been dredged. Instead, the Coast Guard every year would use buoys to mark the deepest and safest natural route through the inlet, which provides connections to the Little Egg Harbor portion of Barnegat Bay, Great Bay and the vital Intracoastal Waterway.”
Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini, who has long lobbied for the use of inlet sand for beach restoration, was glad to learn of the dredging. He said the project “will help maintain the inlet, and will also be a closer source of sand” for replenishment of beaches on the Island’s south end.
Beach Haven Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis spent her youth traveling through both Little Egg and Beach Haven inlets, two natural coves that allow large boats access to the ocean, to fish offshore for bluefish and tuna with her father and his friends. She suspects dredging Little Egg Inlet will have a positive impact on LBI’s Queen City.
“I am proud of our long history relating to sport fishing and thrilled to know it will continue,” Taggart Davis said. “In addition, a deeper and wider inlet might improve the movement of water in and out of the bay, which might improve bay fishing by providing a healthier marine environment.”
Beach Haven was one of the first vacation spots along the Atlantic Coast that embraced sport fishing, the mayor noted. The area was also home to a lucrative menhaden (bunker) fish business, where large working boats moved in and out of Little Egg Inlet on a seasonal basis to numerous fish factories found on barrier sedge islands west of the inlets, the remnants of one which can be seen on Fish Island, she added.
Beach Haven hosts numerous fishing events, but since Superstorm Sandy, the number of participating boats has diminished due to the danger of moving through the silted-in inlets.
“For many years, Beach Haven attracted many people with large boats because of its close proximity to the inlet,” Taggart Davis explained. “We have numerous marinas in town that have suffered in the last few years due to inlet issues. We also have small businesses such as fish and tackle shops that depend on fishermen who have to get into the ocean.”
The DEP’s dredging project will focus on shoaling of sand on the ocean side of the inlet. The Coast Guard-marked channel in this area has at times extended as far as a mile into the ocean. An estimated 1 million to 1.5 million cubic yards of sand will be dredged to create a channel 25 feet below mean sea level. Currently, in many places the channel has become less than 6 feet below mean sea level, making navigation very difficult, especially when factoring in the rolling ocean waves.
According to the DEP, “The project, which will require U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits, will be designed to have negligible to no impact on the nearby Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge or migrations of fish.
“The sand will be used on beaches on southern Long Beach Island that sustained erosion as the result of storms since the completion last year of a major beach fill and dune project.”
As DEP spokesman Larry Hajna pointed out, the exact locations for placement of sand have not yet been determined. “Our goal is to move the project forward as quickly as possible, but we have to go through the design and bid procurement process,” Hajna noted. “Our goal is to put this out to bid next month with the expectation of work beginning during the first part of the summer.”
According to Taggart Davis, who spoke to DEP officials Monday afternoon, Beach Haven and Holgate are expected to receive some of the dredged sand.
As for how much, if at all, the replenishment parameters would vary from the past beachfill on the Island, Army Corps spokesman Steve Rochette stated, “In terms of the sand placement, the extent would depend on the permits that the state has for the upcoming work.”
— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch and Kelley Anne Essinger