Deal the lawsuits and replenish the beaches – now. That was the message sent by a group of Ocean County legislators Monday to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has put off a vital beach and dune replenishment project on the county’s northern barrier island as lawsuits pend from homeowners who refuse to grant easements to allow the dunes to be constructed, and Jenkinson’s, which has sued over a plan to build a protective dune on a beach it owns in Point Pleasant Beach.
The entirety of Brick Township’s oceanfront, left with piles of sand acting as makeshift dunes since Superstorm Sandy struck is 2012, would be covered under the project, which would include at least a 200 foot-long beach and 23 foot-high vegetated, engineered dunes.
The project, which was slated to begin by this month, has been put on hold over the lawsuits. Earlier this year, Ocean County Superior Court Judge Vincent J. Grasso ruled that the state and local municipalities should not have used the Disaster Control Act to take small slivers of oceanfront property whose owners refused to allow access so the dunes could be built. Instead, Grasso ruled, traditional eminent domain proceedings should have applied.
On Monday, state Sen. James Holzapfel, along with Assembly members Dave Wolfe and Greg McGuckin (all R-Ocean) called on the Army Corps to find an alternative method to begin the project before the 2015 hurricane season gets underway June 1.
In the letter to Lieutenant General Thomas Bostick, Chief of Engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the group said erosion from Sandy has left local communities vulnerable to storms as dunes are non-existent in some areas.
“We feel that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to implement a start date for this imperative project which will remediate and restore shore communities and beaches,” the legislators wrote. “Recent reconstruction projects have begun in Monmouth and Cape May County raising concerns from local government officials and residents about when projects will begin for our shore towns in Ocean County.”
As for the lawsuits: “Safeguarding our communities and our natural resources is the responsibility of government and its citizens,” the letter stated. “Many beachfront homeowners support replenishments projects and the construction of dunes because they know it is necessary to protect their property. This is a public safety issue and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Government need to work together with towns to develop another course of action for beginning these crucial replenishment projects.”
A copy of the letter was forwarded to state DEP Commissioner Bob Martin along with U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, as well as President Barack Obama.
A hearing in U.S. District Court in Trenton over the Jenkinson’s matter is scheduled for Wednesday before Judge Peter G. Sheridan.