TRENTON - The Department of Environmental Protection has issued two Notices of Violation to the City of North Wildwood, requiring it to stop development activities being conducted without required DEP permits, including the destruction of vegetated dunes that
provide storm protection. The unauthorized construction projects along North Wildwood's oceanfront and Hereford Inlet were conducted without the required DEP engineering and environmental reviews, and may threaten both the natural ecosystems and public's safety, Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced today.
Since at least March of this year, the city has removed more than eight acres of mature, densely vegetated dunes containing freshwater wetlands and critical wildlife habitat without legally required permits and approvals from DEP. As part of its investigation, the DEP also determined that North Wildwood installed an oceanfront bulkhead without required permits or the engineering reviews conducted by DEP to ensure public safety and environmental protection. It was also discovered that the City and a contractor, BG Capital LLC, constructed multiple buildings at the Seaport Pier boardwalk entertainment complex, including, but not limited to, a restaurant and tiki bar, and extended sewer service all without DEP review or approval.
"These activities were undertaken without regard for the laws and regulations that have long been in place to protect public safety and the fragile ecosystems that are not only important as wildlife habitat but serve critical functions in protecting New Jersey's coastal communities," Commissioner McCabe said. "It is vital that projects in coastal ecosystems undergo thorough reviews under state laws and regulations in place to ensure these activities, if allowed, are conducted in a manner that protects both the public and the environment. North Wildwood showed complete disregard for these laws and regulations and must stop work immediately."
Violations in North Wildwood
The work conducted by North Wildwood is in violation of the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act, Coastal Zone Management Rules, the Flood Hazard Area Control Act, the Freshwater Wetlands Act and the Water Pollution Control Act. The activity dates back to as early as 2018 with dune removal conducted likely beginning in March 2020, just as the state was dealing with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.
The city must cease disturbance or destruction to the remaining dunes and immediately stop all ongoing unauthorized construction on the city's oceanfront from Hereford Inlet to 22nd Avenue, unless and until necessary approvals from DEP are obtained. Any work that took place and does not receive DEP approval must be restored and structures removed.
The Value of Dunes to New Jersey
Mature, densely vegetated dunes are unique within New Jersey's coastal dune systems and provide tremendous biodiversity. The dunes and freshwater wetlands that were destroyed in North Wildwood provided critical wildlife habitat that supported a variety of birds, insects, plants and other wildlife.
Natural dune systems with robust populations of trees, shrubs and plants absorb wind and wave energy during storms and provide flood water storage. Research conducted after Superstorm Sandy hit the state in 2012 has shown that areas of New Jersey that had natural, stable dunes provided better protection, due in part to their size and/or extensive network of roots anchoring the sand in place. It takes many years for these natural vegetated dunes to establish these root systems.
The construction of bulkheads and other engineering solutions must be carefully studied and analyzed because, in many cases, they can exacerbate erosion by interfering with the natural distribution of sand and sediments along beaches. Any unauthorized disturbances to beach and dune ecosystems can also undermine beach construction and nourishment projects undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and DEP.
Dunes and Future Plans in North Wildwood
North Wildwood's dunes helped protect the city from nor'easter Ida in November 2009, Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, Winter Storm Jonas in January 2016, and Storm Melissa in October 2018, as well as numerous other nor'easters.
To address the statewide challenge of beach erosion, the state and federal governments have invested considerable resources over time to restore, stabilize and create dunes along the New Jersey shore. North Wildwood is scheduled to be part of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and DEP Storm Damage Reduction project consisting of engineered beach and dune construction with periodic renourishment for at least 50 years stretching from Hereford Inlet south to Diamond Beach, parts of which may be affected by the disturbance cited in the Notices of Violation issued today. In addition, the USACE and DEP plan to repair sections of the Hereford Inlet seawall within the Anglesea section of the City beginning in June.