Officials paint a positive picture at 16th annual State of the Shore

Lots of people spent the morning soaking up rays in Asbury Park, one of 216 New Jersey beaches open for business heading into the Memorial Day weekend.

“We’re definitely over all the bad weather, you know, and the long winter that would, like, never end,” said Ocean City resident Melissa Rodriguez.

“The shore looks great. New Jersey beaches, all 130 miles of them, are in really good shape,” said Claire Antonucci, executive director of the NJ Sea Grant Consortium.

Officials at the 16th annual State of the Shore news conference said multiple beach replenishments have built up dunes against coastal storms. The DEP reports four Army Corps projects remain active, including the troubled Absecon Island drainage project that back-pooled into so-called ‘Lake Christie’ in Margate last summer.

“They’re going excellently, and the Corps was actually very accommodating in making sure that its schedule wasn’t going to interfere with those towns that expressed a concern,” Department of Environmental Protection’s acting commissioner Catherine McCabe said.

That’s important, given that Thursday’s national hurricane season forecast calls for a 75 percent chance of a near or above-normal hurricane season. That means 10 to 16 named storms, of which five to nine could be hurricanes, and one to four of those major, Category Three or above. Superstorm Sandy was a Category One.

“Last year, was supposed to be slightly above-average as well. Obviously, we had Harvey and Maria and Irma, so it turned out to be pretty bad,” said Jon Miller, a research associate professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. “Our beaches are actually in very good condition now, so should a storm like Sandy occur, we’re in much better shape to sort of withstand it.”

In fact, the so-called March Four-Easters did erode Jersey beaches, shifting tons of sand to offshore sandbars. That creates a particular hazard.

“While those sand bars are out there, rip currents are associated with sand bars. So we definitely want to urge people to be careful, particularly if they go swimming early in the season before lifeguards come out,” said Miller.

“Last summer, sadly, we had a lot of drownings in New Jersey. Eight of them were attributed to rip currents, and most all of them were attributed to swimming at unguarded beaches and after hours,” said Antonucci.

New Jersey’s DEP runs surveillance flights six days a week looking for pollution. It started testing ocean water quality a couple weeks ago at almost 190 ocean beaches, plus 31 others along bays and rivers.

“This past week, everything passed. Everything’s good to go for next weekend,” said the director of the division of water monitoring and standards at the NJ DEP, Bruce Friedman.

The Murphy administration’s mindful that the Jersey Shore generates about half of the state’s $44 billion in tourism revenue, so it’s fighting hard against federal proposals to drill offshore for oil and gas. You might call the political shore forecast a little turbulent.