BRICK, N.J. – More than five months after Superstorm Sandy roared through, destroying hundreds of houses and damaging thousands more, Brick no longer has dunes on its beaches.
Instead, it has piles of hastily-arranged sand serving as emergency barriers that are all but begging to be washed away.
So when Mayor Stephen Acropolis emerged from a meeting Thursday with New Jersey environmental officials who told him a federal beach-replenishment project probably wouldn't take place in Brick until next year, his resolve to have the town do something on its own only hardened.
Brick is one of many Jersey shore towns considering new and costly ways to protect their shoreline in the aftermath of Sandy. Some are turning to sand-filled fabric tubes that would form the base for new dunes. Others are looking at expanding protective rock walls or so-called groin fields, which are rock piles placed offshore. Many towns are paying for the work themselves.
"We're sitting out here naked, with no dunes," Acropolis said. "I call them sand castle piles. You get a full moon high tide and they're gone."
Earlier this week, Brick's township council explored the idea of placing a geotube, a huge sand-filled tube, covering it with sand and planting dune grass atop it to form the basis of a new dune system. After hearing about the delay in the federal beach-widening project, Acropolis predicted the council would be even more supportive of the $7.5 million project, for which Brick would probably have to borrow money.
It would join its neighbor Mantoloking, the New Jersey community hardest by the storm, in using the tubes to help rebuild dunes. The strategy has been used in other Jersey shore towns including Ocean City, Atlantic City and Sea Isle City, among others.
Homeowners in Bay Head, on the other side of Mantoloking, got permission from the state to expand a protective rock wall, paying for it themselves. The project would extend an existing 4,500-foot wall by another 1,300 feet.
In Avalon, the council agreed Wednesday night to study beach protection technology including a groin field — rock piles placed in the water and parallel to the shoreline. The rocks would have small gaps between them large enough to let water and sand flow through but small enough to blunt the force of large waves and storm surges.
"It is our responsibility to examine innovative ways to provide a greater level of protection for our community while preserving our beaches and dunes that often take the brunt of significant coastal storms," said Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi.
The mayor said Avalon has paid for seven beach-replenishment projects without federal help since 2005, although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supplemented that work with emergency fill projects.
In January, Avalon completed its most recent replenishment project, this one fully paid for by the federal government. It restored the beaches to the condition they were in before Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in October.
The work is crucial in Avalon, which is located on a barrier island between two inlets, where shifting sands constantly change the shape and width of the beaches.
Longport, a well-to-do resort community south of Atlantic City, has long resisted sand dunes in part because they interfere with cherished waterfront views, but it is changing its mind and applying for federal funding to build dunes. Officials there were swayed by the performance of a small, four-block stretch of experimental dunes that kept sand off the streets behind it, while much of the rest of nearby roads were inundated during Sandy.
Longport Mayor Nicholas Russo said simply, "I don't think we have much of a choice."
Brick could start work on its geotube project right away; it included the estimated $7.5 million cost of the project in its capital budget.
The township's oceanfront section was annihilated by the storm; more than 100 bungalows in the Camp Osborne section were destroyed by the storm surge and fires likely caused by electrical or natural gas mishaps as building were knocked off their foundations. Brick was out millions of dollars in property tax revenue, and had to pay millions more for cleanup costs.
Brick would probably have to get nearby homeowners to sign easements permitting the dunes to be built on their property, as is the case in Mantoloking. Acropolis says work needs to start as soon as possible.
"The new hurricane season starts in two months," he said. "We're going to have the same issue if another hurricane comes through — probably worse. At least last year, we had the dunes to wear down some of the storm surge. Now we don't."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC