SEA BRIGHT – “We’re moving in the right direction.”
That’s the assessment of Councilman C. Read Murphy as he and borough employees prepare the municipal beach for the approaching summer season.
Things look considerably brighter this summer than it did just a year ago when officials were contending with the destruction that Super Storm Sandy caused. Last year, workers were trying to get the public beach – a major generator of revenue for the community – back into some sort of shape.
“Last year was a tough year, a tough summer,” said Murphy, who chairs the council’s beach committee. Beach attendance and beach badge sales plummeted in 2013.
This year the municipal beach, like other coastal communities in Monmouth County, has the advantage of benefitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ $102 million sand replenishment project, conducted last summer and in the fall. It has extended beachfronts from Manasquan to Sandy Hook. Sea Bright, Monmouth Beach and Monmouth County, which operates Seven Presidents Park, the county’s only lifeguard-protected beach area, all are in prime shape in large part to the project, representatives for those areas noted.
“The beach hasn’t looked this full in who knows how long,” Murphy said.
What’s also looking good for the coming summer is sales of seasonal beach badges.
For the last few years the borough was offering a substantial discount on seasonal badges purchased prior to April 1; people paid $50 instead of the traditional $100 for the summer. While successful in past years, last year, with many businesses still rebuilding and homes still wrecked, badge sales nosedived to about 700, down from its usual 1,400 to 1,500, Murphy said.
“We’re way up” this year with the borough having already sold 1,400 badges, he said. “We’re back strong now.”
Last year also saw the introduction of beach lockers, which go for $300 a season, including a season beach badge. The lockers are about about 3-feet high by 4-feet wide. “I think they’re pretty much sold out,” Murphy said. “They were quite a deal.” Murphy said he hopes to add more in the coming years.
In preparation for the summer, contactors are redoing the municipal parking lot, repaving and installing dividers and planters for better parking control in the lot that will accommodate about 400 vehicles when completed. The work is expected to be completed by May 23.
Construction on a permanent beach pavilion is under way but won’t be completed for about a year. Like last year, beachgoers this year will have to use trailer-contained portable restrooms. A second one will be added and in place by the start of the season, Murphy said.
Public works employees have begun to clean up the beach area, this year assisted by an additional sand rake, which is towed behind a tractor, to remove debris.
Lifeguards will be hired in the next couple of weeks, true to tradition, he said.
Unlike last year, when things were still considerably tenuous in Sandy’s aftermath, now, “even though we’re not done with the recovery, we have a good grasp on running a fully functional beach.”
The municipal beach traditionally generates between $600,000 and $800,000 annually and costs roughly $80,000 to operate for the Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day season, according to Murphy.
In Monmouth Beach, the beach and bathing pavilion appears in good shape and “looks wonderful,” Mayor Susan Howard said. “We may have lost a little sand” to erosion, with the winter, but last summer’s replenishment project has it in good stead for this summer.
Last year, officials and contractors worked feverishly to rebuild the borough-run bathing pavilion in time for the season. Now workers are doing a little renovation, repairing some minor winter damage and constructing a new pump house for the facility. The work will be finished by next month, Howard said.
Last year, beach attendance and pavilion membership to the beach and municipal pool was strong and consistent with previous years. This year, Howard said, “I expect them to be as robust as they always are.”
Traditionally, about 3,500 residents and nonresidents become pavilion members and about 1,500 buy season beach-only badges, Howard said. Already this year no additional non-resident memberships are being accepted for the pavilion, according to a recording heard when calling borough hall.
Season beach badges, which go for $75 for those age 12 and older, go on sale in the beginning of May. That’s when work on cleaning and raking the beach will begin in earnest, Howard said.
“We don’t make money on the beach,” the mayor said. Fees simply cover operating costs. Monmouth Beach has ample free public beach areas, albeit without lifeguard supervision, she added.
Monmouth County’s only lifeguard protected beachfront park area is Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, Long Branch. According to Karen Livingstone, the Monmouth County Park System, it too is in fine shape and ready for the summer crowds. Along with the beach replenishment, the park’s pavilion has been repainted in preparation for summer.
Last year, the 38-acre park had 250,025 visitors in July and August and an annual attendance of 416,958, according to Livingstone. “This year we are expecting an increase of visitors.”
Season beach badges for the county park are $45 for those age 13 to 17; $65 for adults ages 18 to 64; and $25 for adults 65 and older. Daily badges go for $7 for those 18 and older and free for those 17 and younger during the week. On weekends and holidays the charge is $7 for those 13 and older. A parking pass costs $7 a day.