HARVEY CEDARS, N.J. (AP) — Where some people once lived on gently sloping beaches, they now live on the edge of cliffs.
The storm surge from Hurricane Irene left 15- to 18-foot drop-offs on some New Jersey beaches, particularly on Long Beach Island. But state environmental officials said the erosion is not so bad that the beaches can't be used by Labor Day weekend.
The state Department of Environmental Protection said the state's 127-mile coastline actually came through the hurricane in good shape and that past coastal storms had inflicted far worse damage.
"Labor Day weekend should be no problem," said Robert Giovannetti, a construction specialist with the DEP who has been measuring eroded beaches for 30 years. "It might be a little tight, but you can do it."
Giovannetti, who estimates he has taken 2 million photographs of sand in his career, said Long Beach Island experienced an average sand loss of 4 to 5 feet in height and 150 feet in width.
The steep cliffs carved out by the storm were causing concern up and down the coast, and shore towns wasted little time attacking the problem Monday. Many had dispatched work crews just after dawn to start pushing huge mounds of sand back where they belong.
As a result, the whine of heavy machinery competed with seagull screeches along the shore.
Lloyd Vosseller was operating a bulldozer in Harvey Cedars, busily trying to restore an access ramp to the beach for lifeguard and other vehicles.
Next would be the restoration of pedestrian walkways and public-access points. Some of them were left dangling 8 feet in the air, becoming walkways to nowhere.
Gov. Chris Christie and DEP Commissioner Robert Martin flew up and down the coast Sunday to look for damage, and were encouraged to find comparatively little, DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said.
"We really fared very well," he said. "Apparently the beach replenishment work and the dune projects really paid off. We're not seeing any truly severe damage to the beaches."
Officials in Ocean City credited beach replenishment work for protecting their beaches, some of which were obliterated by a November 2009 coastal storm.
Christie visited Avalon on Sunday, where he met the mayors of that town and Sea Isle City. The governor praised the beach replenishment project, saying it helped save lives and homes.
"This doesn't happen by accident," Christie said. "Part of it's good fortune from the way the storm weakened a little bit before it came on shore, but part of it is because these guys have made investments. And you see the results of it now here. The dunes did their jobs. They protected the beach."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC