A line of more-modest protective dunes saved the neighboring borough to the south from widespread damage. So Akers might be expected to embrace any plan to protect his battered town, where the roller coaster still sits upright in the ocean and workers are busy replacing the boardwalk in anticipation of the Memorial Day start of the beach season.
But he has grave doubts about the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan: a 300-foot-wide sand dune project along 14 miles of the Jersey shore. Sand dunes will loom over the boardwalk, blocking much of the view. “You can do ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ out there on the beach,” he said.
It will send beachgoers — who swell this town of 2,400 to 30,000 people on summer weekends — elsewhere, he said, along with much of the town’s revenue. “They’re going somewhere else. They’re going to go south,” he said.
As Sandy’s six-month anniversary approaches April 30 and many turn their attention to protecting against the next major storm, the Corps’ plan has provoked the kind of conflict that comes with natural devastation and high property values.
Seaside Heights has been mostly cleansed of sand and debris that washed and blew inland, but Sandy’s damage is still obvious on the beach and boardwalk. An enormous Ferris wheel remains partly detached from its moorings. Video games are heaped outside one arcade. The beach remains off-limits to everyone, cordoned by yellow tape, and police spend increasing amounts of time each weekend shooing away gawkers as the weather improves.
“We need some type of protection,” Akers said. “If it turns out someone shows me a dune and a berm is the best thing, I’m not a stupid man. But I think alternatives need to be explored before we get to that point.”
A Frisbee throw up the coast in the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, perhaps the hardest-hit community in this area, officials have just one of the 22 signed easements the state wants from private-property owners by May 1 to proceed with the project. Aside from their views of the ocean, residents are concerned about restrictions that might be imposed on beach use, and under state law, once a dune is built, it cannot be moved.
The New Jersey Sierra Club thinks dunes will help protect the island but worries about the impact of scouring the bottom of the ocean for sand, said Jeff Tittel, the state organization’s director.
But the Corps’ plan has equally ardent local backers. For three decades, the borough of Seaside Park, the largely residential town of 1,900 that borders Seaside Heights to the south, has kept up a line of protective dunes on its own.
“When that storm hit, those dunes stood up . . . and they saved this town,” said Mayor Robert Matthies. The waves reduced the size of the dunes by half, he said, but homes were saved. As a result, Matthies has embraced the Corps project. But his town does not depend on boardwalk merchants for its revenue.