A $24 million federal investment in beach replenishment, flood mitigation and storm damage reduction projects throughout the New Jersey coastline will give beaches the restoration they need to remain competitive during tourist season, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-Cliffside Park) said Thursday.
“Last year, Hurricane Irene and other storms wreaked havoc on our state,” Lautenberg said in a press release announcing the funding. “While we have more work to do, these funds are a critical investment (to) protect our coastal economy.”
According to Galloway councilman Brian J. Tyrrell, also director of the Center for Hospitality and Tourism Research at Stockton College, the tourism industry employs one in nine workers in the state, and its economic impact on state revenue was more than $20 billion in 2010. In Cape May County alone, tourism represents 48 percent of the economy, and generates about $5.275 billion in expenditures each year, the second highest in the state, Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism, said in an e-mail.
“Sand is our brand,” Wieland said. “Eighty-nine percent of our visitors cite beaches as the most important factor in choosing Cape May County as their vacation destination, and 90 percent of second homeowners buy because of the beaches.”
However, with the onslaught of Hurricane Irene, the amount of people who evacuated from coastal communities or avoided them completely hurt tourism and local profits, Tyrrell said.
“Without safe and nourished beaches, our single largest industry would be devastated, and the impact would be far reaching — beyond the possible loss of 32,000 full-time and seasonal jobs,” Wieland said. “The quality of life that attracts many retirees who supplement their income with seasonal jobs would be drastically reduced, forcing them and young families to leave the area. Without tourism, homeowners would pay an additional $1,300 in property taxes.”
While the more popular beaches, like Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights, have been restored to their pre-storm states, smaller beaches, like those in Galloway, are still dismal today, and risk losing tourist-driven business without the federal funding, Tyrrell said.
“It’s encouraging that this money will not only be spent on repairing the devastating damage from Irene and other storms last year, but also ensure that future storms don’t dissuade tourists from visiting the Jersey Shore,” Tyrrell said. “It’s more of an issue to keep tourism strong in the wake of storms at smaller beaches, because they are usually the last ones to get help from the state, and then they have a harder time keeping and creating jobs.”