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Vanishing beach in this Jersey Shore town has some residents rethinking their plans

by Staff

The scene at North Wildwood’s eroded beach on Monday morning, with a coastal flood warning in effect ahead of an oncoming storm, was mostly barren.

Ocean water sprayed boardwalk benches with each lapping wave. As joggers and dog walkers hurried down streets, a few surfers happily rode the swells. And a 90-year-old Bill Abel, who has come to the Jersey Shore town since he was a kid, took his morning walk.

The severity of beach erosion in North Wildwood over the years can best be captured by how Abel has adjusted his route.

As recently as three years ago, Abel used to trace a path down 2nd Avenue along the sandy shores of the city’s beach near Hereford Inlet, walk around the jetty and then head in the direction of sister city Wildwood on John F. Kennedy Beach Drive. When he was a boy, Abel could go for a short walk out toward the Atlantic Ocean itself where another resident estimated the beach went for at least a quarter mile before hitting water.

None of that was possible Monday. Erosion, a geological process wherein sand is taken away by wind and wave action, has peeled away chunks of North Wildwood’s coast and rendered sections of it completely un-walkable.

Bright orange signs warn visitors away from several beach access points and from standing on the jetty near the north sea wall where it could be dangerous. Only a bulkhead and reinforced sand dunes at some sections of the shoreline — where at high tide about 26 of the 36 blocks of beach remain — keeps strong waves from inundating the street.

North Wildwood, which has waited roughly a decade for larger sand replenishment work tied up in a lengthy approval process and mounds of bureaucracy, recently appealed to the state after a proposal to extend the bulkhead along the coast was rejected. State officials said a decision on the appeal is expected soon.

Abel, who changed his route to now walk on the sidewalk and up to the gazebo onshore to stare out at the ocean, said Monday that whether future coastal erosion will erase the beach entirely will be an issue his grandson will have to deal with, not him.

“He’ll have to worry about that,” Abel joked. “That’s his problem.”

Next to him, Ryan McIntyre chimed in.

“I think that the government body that takes care of this should think about it,” said McIntyre.

Yet, the 31-year-old balked at the concept of no longer living in North Wildwood despite scientific experts cautioning that erosion will only worsen in coastal areas due to climate change fueling storms and waves. “Managed retreat” has been suggested by climate advocates in some areas facing significant erosion.

“There’s people here that have lived their whole lives here,” McIntyre said. “There’s people that come down here on the weekends for that walk, just to get away from the city hustle and bustle. Yeah, there’s definitely got to be accountability taken for sure … they need to take care of this.”

As climate change forces homeowners to reconsider where they can set down roots for the longterm, places like North Wildwood are contending with the everyday realities of losing land to erosion and what sea level rise tells us will only become a more untenable situation. Some residents like Abel, taking stock of their age, are content with staying exactly where they are.

Others, however, say increased beach closures, worse erosion and more problems have them — at the very least — second-guessing their plans.

Bill Abel, 90 (right), with his grandson Ryan McIntyre, 31, look out on the ocean on Feb. 12, 2024, near a section of North Wildwood’s beach where erosion has made the shore un-walkable.
Bill Abel, 90 (left), with his grandson Ryan McIntyre, 31, look out on the ocean on Feb. 12, 2024, near a section of North Wildwood’s beach where erosion has made the shore un-walkable.

North Wildwood is particularly susceptible to erosion because of its location, Stockton University notes. Not only does it stick out from the shoreline, the city’s beach is exposed to northeast storms and strong southerly winds — which often pushes sand south to the neighboring city.

North Wildwood has in the past trucked in sand from Wildwood to build back its beaches ahead of busy summers. That hasn’t been possible in the past two years because erosion has thinned out areas on the beach where heavy trucks need to travel to transport sand, according to local engineers.

The city must therefore wait for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that may not build back up the shore here until 2025. But that replenishment, which will benefit three other towns, needs additional public and private real estate easements before moving forward.

The situation, residents said, has only grown more dire.

That’s been evident during a $33 million legal dispute, a fine levied against the city and several public back-and-forth’s between the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello.

Most recently, the heated exchange ramped up when waves cut a hole through a reinforced sand dune at 13th Avenue after a series of storms. It appeared to get bigger this week after another storm — putting shore homes and power lines at risk, the city says.

On Monday, resorts on the boardwalk were all closed, with only maintenance workers on-site gearing up for the warmer seasons ahead.

Nearby next to the wetlands and walking a golden retriever named Scribble, 35-year-old Joseph Albanese was wary of what the future held for his town.

“I’ve been going to the beach a few times the past couple of weeks and at high tide there’s no beach,” Albanese said. “Where’s everyone gonna go?”

Albanese said his parents, Marcia and Dominic, bought a home one block down from the beach about four years ago and are concerned because of the erosion as well.

“It’s an investment for us too, for their kids. They want us to have something too when they pass,” said Albanese, who became “pissed” at the idea of losing all access to the beach. “I grew up here, so to lose it would suck.”

North Wildwood 3rd through 9th Avenues before (top, 2002) and after (bottom, 2006).

Joe Mongan, pushing a stroller holding his grandson, arrived near the “Beach Access Closed” sign at 15th Avenue and took a peek.

“I wanted to get an idea of how much beach there was,” said the 65-year-old former aerospace engineer.

Mongan, who lives in Philadelphia, bought a second home in North Wildwood 12 years ago.

“It’s becoming concerning. Like, how much longer are we going to deal with it?” Mongan said of the erosion which in the last three years has meant similar repeated closures. “Not just for myself, but my kids and my grandkids. Are they gonna continue to come to this house that we have? I don’t know the answer to that.”

Mongan originally planned to move to the Jersey Shore in the next four years, but the progressing erosion has him re-assessing. He hopes the city holds a meeting to outline a five- or ten-year plan.

“It might not do them any good, because like I said it might be a dim view,” he said about projections he would find valuable. “It could scare people off.”

North Wildwood has closed off several sections of the beach due to coastal erosion. Pictured are sand dunes onshore which the city built to help protect shore property (Feb. 12, 2024). Erosion is only expected to get worse due to climate change, has significantly impacted several sections of the Jersey Shore city’s beach.
A closed-off jetty near 2nd Avenue in North Wildwood, New Jersey, on Feb. 12, 2024. Coastal erosion, only expected to get worse due to climate change, has significantly impacted several sections of the Jersey Shore town’s beach.

On the other side of the boardwalk, Mike and Cathy Meletti walked their dogs.

Cathy said she fears what less (or no) local beach could mean for vendors like ice cream trucks stopping by the town every summer. She suspects fewer are coming already.

And Mike is perplexed by the state of the beach between 2nd and 12th Avenues — an area he says 30 years ago was covered by multiple dunes the length of football fields. His own flooding issues, he said, have been minimal but less and less beach to enjoy has been frustrating.

Still, both are steadfast that they plan to stay in North Wildwood — and the home they moved into six years ago — despite the disappearing beach.

“I’m 71 years old, I’ll live through it,” Mike said, laughing. “I think I’ve got a lifetime guarantee on the house.”

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Steven Rodas may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on X at @stevenrodasnj.

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