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Star Wars' Imperial Walkers invade coastal Downbeach

  • Downbeach

A CRAB takes a rest on the beach in Margate.


VENTNOR Residents fear Downbeach has been invaded by Imperial Walkers from outer space.

The three-legged contraption people have been seeing crawling along the shoreline over the past few weeks is actually a CRAB, more accurately known as a Coastal Research Amphibious Buggy. It stands 33 feet high and crawls along the shoreline at about 6 miles-per-hour surveying the near shore area to provide the dredging contractor hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with a profile of the underlying sea floor.

The CRAB will help analysts determine how much sand is needed to fill in certain areas of the engineered beach that has washed away in storms.

The surveys are used in tandem with land-based surveys and offshore boat surveys to provide information on the quantity and profile of sand placed, said ACE spokesman Steve Rochette in an email to

The CRAB has a computer that is operated by a technician to collect survey data from about 12 feet below the surface of the ocean.

The CRAB operator steers to stay on a given survey line by watching the computer monitor, Rochette said.

Perched on three wheels, the 29,000-pound CRAB looks like it's straight out of a Star Wars movie and has people asking on local social media sites, What the heck is that? Some have posted rather comical remarks about the CRAB, while others have snapped photos to share with other curious information seekers.

Beach fill CRAB walks in Sea Isle City.

The CRAB is part of an army of heavy construction equipment being used for the Absecon Island Shore Protection Project, which is currently replenishing storm-eroded beaches in Ventnor, Margate and Longport. Most of the heavy work is being done in Ventnor, between Harvard and Fredericksburg Avenue, where storms have washed away sand and shortened the beaches to the dune line during high tides.

The 1.6 million cubic yards of sand will come from a borrow area a few miles offshore. Sand will be pumped onto the beach and graded into the original dune and berm engineered template, which was designed to reduce damages from future coastal storm events.

The Suffolk Avenue beach access ramp will also be rebuilt and dune grass planted.

The work will start in Ventnor, move to Atlantic City and then to Margate and Longport, with a completion date of Jan. 18, 2021.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Philadelphia District awarded a $23.8 million contract to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company of Oak Brook, Illinois to complete the periodic nourishment of the Absecon Island Coastal Storm Risk Management project in Atlantic County.

The shore protection project was initially constructed in 2004 in Atlantic City and Ventnor City, and in 2018 in Margate City and Longport.

According to the Army Corps, the federal government will cover 65% of the cost of the project, with the State of New Jersey and local municipalities sharing the remaining 35%.

Ventnor's cost share for the base contract is $692,000, but it could go as high as $830,000 if all additional sand options are needed and awarded.

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