Proposed Mordecai Island Project Reaches Important Milestone

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CLAM UP: Volunteers work to fill the shell bags, which were part of the anti-erosion measures for the island. (Photo provided)

The US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it has completed an environmental assessment project to address the restoration of the ecosystem of Mordecai Island, located in the bay off Beach Haven.

In an official notice, the Corps said the environmental assessment was evaluating ecosystem restoration alternatives to address habitat loss due to erosion on the island.

“The recommended plan identified in the EA will help protect the island from further erosion and restore approximately 11.5 acres of previously lost intertidal habitat,” the agency said. “The non-Federal sponsor of this study is the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. USACE is proposing to construct a rockfill breakwater off the western edge of Mordecai Island that will span 3 000 linear feet and will have an average height of 7.6 feet from the bottom of the bay.After construction of the breakwater, approximately 30,000 cubic meters of sand will be obtained from the normal maintenance dredging of the waterway Intracoastal New Jersey and placed behind the structure to restore approximately 11.5 acres of lost intertidal marsh habitat and beach nesting birds.

The public and organizations are invited to comment on this proposal by March 24.

More than 20 years ago, members of the Little Egg Harbor Yacht Cub in Beach Haven formed the Mordecai Land Trust in an effort to stem the erosion that was eating away at Mordecai Island, located in the bay just to the west docks. The claw-shaped island currently covers 41 acres, although at one time it covered over 70 acres.

According to the land trust, the island protects the western edge of Beach Haven from storms and at the same time serves as a wonderful ecosystem that is habitat for a variety of wildlife that includes migratory birds, shorebirds and a number of endangered species.

“The Army Corps announcement is something we’ve been waiting for a long time,” said Linda Colgan, president of the land trust. “Once this is complete, the next step will be the design phase. We are still talking about several years for its completion, but it is definitely progress.

Over the years, the land trust has been involved in temporary measures to control erosion. At first, these were dredging projects as well as the placement of geotubes and grass plantings.

More recently, the land trust in partnership with ReClam the Bay has set up oyster castles near the west coast of the island.

“This is the area that takes the beating during storms,” ​​said Jim Dugan, engineer and land trust board member. “The west shore of Mordecai Island has eroded at an unsustainable rate due to wave action from the winds and ship traffic from New Jersey’s Intracoastal Waterway. Constructing a prototype on site with oyster castles provides the best opportunity to evaluate the structural geometry of the breakwater to realize its wave attenuation and habitat creation capabilities.

“One of the issues we encountered was that there were various changes to the permitting process after Super Hurricane Sandy, primarily through the state DEP,” Colgan said. “We are finding out that working with the government has been a slow process, but now it looks like it will move forward.”

Dugan said the cost of the project is estimated at $6 million. He said the Corps will pay 75%, while the state is responsible for the balance.

“But the land trust has to pay a quarter of the state’s 25%,” he said.

Comments relating to “Mordecai Island, Beach Haven, New Jersey, Project Modification for Ecosystem Restoration (Section 1135) Feasibility Study and Integrated Environmental Assessment” should be directed to [email protected]

—Eric Englund

[email protected]

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