Department of Interior Secretary Approves Avalon/Stone Harbor/North Wildwood Position on Hereford Inlet

Secretary Bernhardt holds meeting with local officials, Congressman Jeff Van Drew in Washington, DC

(Avalon/Stone Harbor/North Wildwood)—United States Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt issued an administrative directive on Monday, November 4th that permits the use of non-emergency federal funds for periodic beach nourishment projects, particularly in Stone Harbor and North Wildwood.  The directive follows a meeting hosted by Secretary Bernhardt at the Department of Interior on Monday, October 21st scheduled by Congressman Jeff Van Drew and attended by representatives of Avalon, Stone Harbor, and North Wildwood.  This directive reverses a recent position by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service that prevented the sand that has accumulated in the Inlet from prior beach fills to be used for protective measures against future storm events.

“We collectively appreciate the Congressman’s efforts with arranging this meeting and appreciate Secretary Bernhardt’s reversal of Fish and Wildlife’s blatant disregard for the language included in the statute in the Coastal Barriers Resources Act”, said Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi.  “Some individuals at Fish and Wildlife ignored language in a federal law and put coastal communities at unnecessary risk despite agreement from federal, state, municipal and environmental interests that they were dead wrong in their position.  We simply will not get rolled by individuals with specific agendas and will continue to make best decisions based on science, and not egos”.

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act regulates certain offshore units in the United States where any combination of local, state, or emergency federal dollars may be used to remove sand to restore eroded beachfronts.  The Act prohibits the use of non-emergency federal dollars unless certain exceptions are met, including the stabilization of an existing shoreline and/or to protect environmental assets.  The municipalities presented voluminous evidence to the Secretary that exceptions are clearly met and were willfully ignored by Fish and Wildlife.  The Department of Interior supported the use of these same exemptions in a letter dated December 24, 1996, and three subsequent non-emergency beach fills used sand from Hereford Inlet since that letter. However, Fish and Wildlife reversed its own position two years ago.

“The inexplicable overreach by Fish and Wildlife prevents North Wildwood from being included in the Townsend’s Inlet to Cape May project and has resulted in our coastline being extremely vulnerable to coastal storm events”, said North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello.  “Secretary Bernhardt was sympathetic to our issue and went so far as to apologize to our group for having to make the trip to Washington, DC to state our position, which he has affirmed in his directive”.

Stone Harbor was not included in a hydraulic beach fill project this fall despite being included in the Townsend’s Inlet to Cape May project in part because Fish and Wildlife refused to allow some of the five million plus cubic yards of sand clogging Hereford Inlet from prior beach fills to be placed back on the beaches.  “Fish and Wildlife not only ignored the federal statute, but also ignored clear evidence that there have been vast environmental improvements at Stone Harbor Point created only from sand from prior beach fill projects”, said Stone Harbor Mayor Judy Davies-Dunhour.  “This directive by the Secretary will ensure that critical environmental habitats are protected, and continue to thrive, on beaches in both Stone Harbor and North Wildwood”.

During the last hydraulic beach fill project in 2017, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the boroughs of Stone Harbor and Avalon had to create a unique agreement that pumped sand from Townsend’s Inlet, north of Avalon, south to the Stone Harbor beaches at an additional expense of over $6 million.  This action needed to be taken despite millions of cubic yards of sand sitting in Hereford Inlet from prior beach fill projects.

The meeting with Secretary Bernhardt was established by Congressman Van Drew, who met with officials from all three communities on Friday, October 11th.  Representatives from Fish and Wildlife were invited to that meeting to discuss a solution, but they did not attend.

Photo:  United States Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt hosts a meeting in his office to discuss the CBRA issue.  (L to R) Stone Harbor Business Administrator Jill Gougher, Avalon Assistant Business Administrator James Waldron, Avalon Business Administrator Scott Wahl, Secretary Bernhardt, Congressman Jeff Van Drew, North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello, North Wildwood Business Administrator Ron Simone.   Photo by Javier Gamboa.