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New Jersey Community Pines for Beach Season

 by JoAnne Castagna

It's below 30 degrees on a February day on Bradley Beach in New Jersey. Locals are walking their dogs along the snow covered shore, riding bicycles on the promenade and even sporting wet suits and surfing the ice cold waves.

It was obvious to a group of ear-muffed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel that the residents of Bradley Beach are pinning for beach season as they walked along the shore with local and state officials surveying the dune work created by the community.

The residents are also literally pining for beach season. For the past five years they’ve been donating their used Christmas pine trees to the town to create dunes along the mile long Bradley Beach shoreline to maintain the sand nourish-ment work completed by the Corps in 2001.

The Bradley Beach shoreline had experienced erosion due to previous storms and was in need of sand nourish-ment. In July 1999 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District began a sand nourishment project on Bradley Beach, in Monmouth County, NJ, as part of the Corps’ Sandy Hook to Barnegat Inlet Beach Erosion Control Project.

The Corps contracted Weeks Marine to place 3.1 million cubic yards of sand on the shore, which added over 200 feet of beach front, and to create seven groin notches and four outfall extensions.

“Dune creation was not a part of the Corps’ project because they are not need-ed in this project area for protection because the area has a naturally high backshore. If dunes were needed, the Corps certainly would have added this feature,” said Lynn Bocamazo, Senior Coastal Engineer, USACE, New York District, who designed and monitored the completed beach nourishment project.

Dunes are laid out in a saw-tooth design. Photo credit: Douglas Leite, Project Manager, USACE, New York District.

After the project was completed in January 2001, a local effort arose. The Bradley Beach residents wanted to take an additional step to protect the Corps’ work, so they decided to create beach dunes. Beach dunes control beach ero-sion by limiting wind-blown sand loss.

“We wanted to protect the beach’s promenade from future storms and give it a new look, like no other town has,” said Richard Bianchi, Operating Supervisor of Public Works for Bradley Beach who designed the dune project and has been a life long resident of Bradley Beach.

“We also wanted to block out the noise for sunbathers on our beaches. The only noise that you hear now is the sound of the waves and birds. The dunes also protect beach residents’ homes and pro-vides them a beautiful ocean front and privacy.”

Donated Christmas trees being used to create dunes on Bradley Beach. Photo credit: Douglas Leite, Project Manager, USACE, New York District.

Bocamazo said, “Bradley Beach is not the first community along the 21-mile area to create dunes. Manasquan Beach and Monmouth Beach created dunes using fencing or dune grass, or a combi-nation of planting and fencing. Bradley Beach is the first to use Christmas trees.”

Every January Bradley Beach resi-dents leave their used pine Christmas trees on the curbside where a truck from Bradley Beach Public Works Department picks them up.

So far an estimated 20,000 trees have been used to create a stretch of dunes, 4-9 feet high, along the mile-long oceanfront. This past holiday season an additional 3,000 trees were added.

On the beach the trees are placed on the ocean side of the dune system. They are placed on their sides where they can capture sand blowing inland from the beach and eventually form permanent dunes.

The community is designing the dune system in what is called a saw-tooth design. “Snow fences are being placed on an angle along the promenade side of the dune to support the dune system. This also makes the beach look appealing from the shore side,” said Bianchi.

Dune grass is being planted on the dunes. Dune grass serves several ecolog-ical functions in terms of the dunes. It helps to stabilize the sand. Structurally, the root system of the plant forms a net-work beneath the sand. When the grass takes and continues to multiply, it literally holds the dune in place. A dune anchored by a dense growth of beach grass forms a much stronger barrier to storms and wave action. Dense growth also serves to dampen the force of the wind resulting in decreased removal of surface sand. “When the project began the town planted 50,000 plugs of dune grass on the dunes to keep the dunes anchored,” said Bianchi. “We are in the process of receiving a grant for an additional 25,000 to 50,000 plugs of dune grass.” The snow fences installed also discourage people from walking on these newly planted areas.

Dune grass serves as habitat for insects and small birds and mammals. The insects often provide food for the birds and mammals. The grass also pro-vides shade and hiding areas during the heat of the day. Thus the grass can pro-vide a critical habitat for the young of these species that breed on the beach.

Weeks Marine’s hopper dredge Brion Lindholm pumping sand at Bradley Beach in October 1999. Photo credit: Construction Division, USACE, New York District.

The Bradley Beach Public Works Department plants the dune grass plugs by inserting a broom handle into the dune to create holes and the dune grass plugs are placed in these holes, usually there are 5-6 plants per plug. During the Spring and Summer the grass grows upwards and spreads along the dune. During the wintertime, the dune grass dies off and grows downward. Maintenance is mini-mal. However, dune grass does need to be maintained because it eventually dies off and needs to be replaced every 5-7 years. A sign that the grass is dying off is when weeds, such as rag weeds, are seen growing on the dunes.

The beach dunes have proven to be successful. “The placement of Christmas trees in combination with snow fencing and dune grass has proven to be very effective in capturing windblown sand that results in the growth of the height and width of the dunes,” said Bianchi.

“The placement of Christmas trees in combination with snow fencing and dune grass has proven to be very effective in capturing windblown sand that results in the growth of the height and width of the dunes,” said Bianchi.

The dunes have shown to be benefi-cial to the environment because they pro-vide a more diverse habitat than just sand along. “The dunes create a sanctuary for sparrows. They also attract all kinds of insects that all wild birds eat,” said Bianchi.

The public also finds the dunes appealing. “Everyone is excited about the dunes. They think it is a wonderful project and they love the feeling of the beautiful dunes and scenery,” said Bianchi.

Bianchi adds that the public now has a personal connection with their beach that draws 20,000 residents every beach season. “Their donated trees will be there forever. They don’t rot. The residents are now a part of the beach.”

Community officials are also very supportive of the project and think it’s beneficial to the public. “When you walk through the dunes to get to the beach from the promenade psychologically it provides the illusion that you are leaving one world for another,” said Stephen Schueler, Mayor of Bradley Beach who is a strong supporter and the financer for the project. Schueler will be funding the project until 2008, the year the dune proj-ect is expected to be completed.

It’s this type of community involve-ment that the Corps likes to see. Bocamazo said, “A pro-active municipal public works department is a beneficial addition to any Federal or State beach erosion control project. Bradley Beach is trying to aggressively maintain the sand that was placed there and is an active par-ticipant in the projects success.”

For more information about the Corps various beach erosion control proj-ects, please contact the author at Joanne.castagna@usace.army.mil.

Dr. JoAnne Castagna is a technical writer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New York City.