By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT – After more than an hour of discussion and comments by the public, the borough council approved a $1.7 million bonding ordinance for its share of a largely federally funded beach replenishment project.
Those in attendance at the Oct. 2 council meeting seemed to break down into two groups, each wanting to let the governing body know how they felt about the planned beach replenishment project.
There were many on hand, including some who were young and carrying signs and identified themselves as surfers and surfing enthusiasts and others who were property owners.
The surfers and surfing enthusiasts had reservations about what the project meant for the waves; the property owners were firmly in support of adding sand to the beach.
“I look out my window and I have almost no beach,” said Ocean Avenue resident Barry Barbella, who has been living in the borough since 1997. For him the project is “a safety item and a structural issue.”
“Surfers come and go and find their little niches,” he told the mayor and council. “I have a 30-year mortgage. I’m not going anywhere.”
Andrew Eastwood, a young surfer who lives in the community, said surfers have made the borough a destination and that is “what makes our town special. More than the bars.”
There is an economic benefit to it as well, Eastwood said, because the visitors come and spend money.
The crux of the issue is that surfers fear the plan for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue its project of adding sand to Monmouth Beach’s shoreline and continuing through Sea Bright will have an unnatural effect on the way waves break. They question whether the work will have environmental and safety ramifications.
Those expressing support for the project appeared to be homeowners, who over the years have seen their property damaged by severe storms. They said that damage is worse when there isn’t a sufficient enough beach to buffer the waves from the land.
The beaches, others noted, provide an economic benefit for the community, drawing large numbers to Sea Bright for a day of sun and surf. In return, those visitors frequent local businesses.
The Army Corps is expected to begin the replenishment project in November. It will add as much as 1 million cubic yards of sand along the two towns’ beachfront by replacing what has washed away through erosion, in an effort to protect the communities from flooding and damage.
John Connor, a Rumson resident who is a member of the Surfers Environmental Alliance, which links the interests of surfers with environmental issues, said after the meeting that these projects disrupt the waves, causing them to break farther out and “making them unsurfable.”
The process, where sand is put out in the ocean to extend the beach, also causes a deep drop that can be a hazard to swimmers unprepared for it and a real risk to surfers, he said.
There are alternatives, he said, including creating a more natural taper to the sand along the shoreline, imitating what would happen as weather moves the sand north along the beachfront, instead of the straight line the engineers usually build.
Eastwood told the council more dune grass would be another natural way to slow erosion. “There are more effective ways,” he said.
“I remember when we had no sand, back in 1992 when the area was hit by a severe nor‘easter,” Ocean Avenue resident Ed Wheeler told the council. “Me and my neighbors had $40,000 to $50,000 in damage.”
“We don’t want it to be us versus them,” said surfer Tyler Thompson of Fair Haven. “We just want to come to the table” and work with the parties and possibly find some give and take. “I think there’s enough room for everyone,” he said.
Mayor Dina Long did not respond to the comments made during the meeting, nor did any of the six council members.
Following the meeting, she said surfer organizations had been involved, meeting with federal and state representatives about these issues. “They have been part of the process,” she said, “and we will continue to work with them.”
Dan Falt, project manager for the corps, said, “We continue to work with surfer groups in the Monmouth Beach-Sea Bright area and we do try to alleviate any concerns they have, but we can’t always do that.”