Bacteria was detected in ponds of standing water caused by weekend rain at the site of the controversial dune construction project at the beach in Margate City, New Jersey, according to city leaders.
Officials say preliminary test results revealed elevated levels of bacteria in the water which has been extremely slow to drain into the sand after five inches of rain fell over the weekend.
"As a precaution, we shut access so people are not walking through those areas," said John Amodeo, the Margate Commissioner of Public Safety.
Contractors with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began pumping the standing water onto the ocean side of the dunes Tuesday, fueling additional concerns about health and safety. Every Margate beach from the Ventnor line to Gladstone Avenue will be closed Wednesday as a result.
"It obviously has created some unanticipated consequences that really looks like a nightmare for the city," said Mike Ruffo of Margate.
Meanwhile the Army Corps told NBC10 its experts are now considering making changes to how Margate's beach protection project is designed, a project bitterly opposed by many in the city.
"I'm not an expert but I will tell you we can see that it's failed," Amodeo said. "Just look behind me."
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The project began in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, relying on wooden bulkheads to protect against storm surges. A group of homeowners in Margate opposed the project and filed a lawsuit against the State Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps. They feared it would cause large lagoons of standing water on the beach that could contain a mixture of trash, oil and other contaminants, providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes that could potentially carry and transmit the Zika virus.
In February however a federal judge declined to block the dunes, ruling that the opponents’ fears were not realistic and stating that they either weren’t likely to happen or could easily be fixed by engineering solutions or cash compensation. Several scientists also said the possibility of the dune project leading to a Zika outbreak were remote at best since the type of mosquito that carries the virus isn’t a problem in New Jersey.
The judge also ruled the puddles or ponding the project might cause likely wouldn’t be worse than what was already there without the dunes. The homeowners ultimately ended their litigation in April.
Months after the lawsuit was dropped however, some Margate residents are now saying, “I told you so,” after the weekend downpours left standing water near the dunes, which officials confirmed contains bacteria.
A spokesperson with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers told NBC10 the water in the basin area between the bulkhead and dune is not percolating due to oversaturation by the recent rain and a weekend deluge. Margate Mayor Michael Becker told NBC10 he considers the area dangerous.
“Bacteria, mosquitoes, I don’t want little children in there,” he said. “There’s certainly enough water in there that could be fatal to somebody. This has to be dealt with.”
Becker called an emergency meeting for commissioners Wednesday morning to discuss the issue and possibly come up with a plan to hire an attorney and file an injunction to stop the project.
“My hope will be that that passes and we hire a good attorney who will obviously get this project stopped,” he said.
Army Corps officials say additional pumps will be arriving at the dune site Wednesday.