Jersey shore town refuses to rebuild dunes ravaged by Superstorm Sandy

Another New Jersey shore town that was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy has decided it doesn’t want to build protective sand dunes.

Manasquan’s dunes were wiped out by the October 2012 storm and despite assertions from many coastal experts that the dunes prevented the damage from being even worse, borough officials have decided for forgo the construction of them.

They say the rebuilt dunes wouldn’t give the town that much more protection and that a recently widened beach will add some security in case another storm were to hit. Some residents say they like being able to see the ocean from their homes again – despite experts’ warnings that they’re playing with fire

"This is a monumental decision the town has made," Mayor George Dempsey said. "We'll have to wait and see if we made the right one."

The shore town of 6,300 has long been popular with vacationing families and year-round residents drawn to its mile-long beach and asphalt-paved beach walk. For years, that walkway and the house next to it were protected by 5- or 6-foot sand dunes. Prior to Sandy’s destruction, some residents still grumbled that they couldn’t see the water from their front porches and that was after a 1992 nor’easter picked up the beach walk and smashed it into thousands of pieces.

You spend a lot of money to rent a place, and it's so nice to see the ocean from your home," said Patricia Clayton of East Windsor, whose family has rented a beachfront home in Manasquan for 35 years. "We were so disappointed when they put in dunes. You couldn't see anything. It blocks the view of the beach and the ocean."

Stewart Farrell, director of the Coastal Research Center at Stockton University, said Manasquan is taking a tremendous gamble by forsaking dunes.

"Sandy beat them badly and subsequent storms will do even more if they reject replacing the meager dunes they had pre-Sandy," he said. "That is just the way it is: Love the view now, lose the house later."

Some residents claim the dunes made things worse, that water-driven sand was propelled into their homes. Althea and John Ridley, who lost a beachfront home, blame the dunes as much as the storm.

"The amount of sand that came pouring into the houses was responsible for a good portion of the damage," she said. "We had 4 feet of sand in our garage."

Manasquan officials had been agonizing since then over whether to rebuild the dunes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved the town for $2.8 million to $3.2 million to rebuild the dunes according to federal standards, with the town responsible for 10 percent of the cost.

Dempsey said the dunes would provide only 3.5 or 4 feet of protection – not enough to warrant the cost. A town study said there would be no difference in Manasquan’s flood insurance rates with or without the dunes, and that they would do nothing to prevent inland river flooding, also a major problem during the superstorm.

At a town hall forum on the dunes, the overwhelming public sentiment was not to rebuild them. The borough council ratified that decision on Monday.

Manasquan is one of several Jersey shore towns that don't want dunes, despite Gov. Chris Christie's stated intention to erect them along the entire 127-mile coastline. The privately owned Jenkinson's beach in Point Pleasant Beach, Manasquan's neighbor to the south, is suing federal, state and local governments to prevent dunes. Bay Head has hundreds of holdouts who refuse to sign easements to permit dunes, and Margate has thus far wrestled the state to a draw in court over plans to build dunes there. Pockets of resistance remain on Long Beach island as well.

John Ridley said he and his wife, who currently rent a beachfront house, are trying to decide whether to buy another one in Manasquan despite their experience during Sandy.

"We had a great view of the ocean," he said. Looking out from the front porch of his rental to the beach and the waves, he said, "How can you not love this?"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.