The state Department of Environmental Protection on Friday announced it had begun to file the first round of condemnation actions against oceanfront homeowners on Ocean County’s northern barrier island, starting with seven property owners in Brick.
The actions were filed in Ocean County Superior Court, said Bob Considine, spokesman for the DEP. The agency did not say which properties, specifically, were included in the action. There are currently 283 easements still outstanding on the northern Ocean County peninsula, held by 176 property owners, according to DEP records.
The condemnations do not include the entire properties, rather, just the slivers of sand in front of the beachfront lots where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking to build a 22 foot-tall protective dune. In front of the dune, at least 200 feet of beach will be restored.
“It is disappointing that we need to go through such considerable legal efforts to obtain easements from holdouts who continue to delay our efforts to safeguard our coast, particularly in northern Ocean County, where Superstorm Sandy did the most damage,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said in a statement. “We will continue to be aggressive in seeking condemnation of portions of remaining properties in northern Ocean County and elsewhere along the coast to avoid any further delays for these critical Army Corps beach projects that will protect lives and property.”
Brick’s beaches have been battered in recent months as waves lapped against a steel sea wall installed last year that was designed to work in tandem with the improved dunes and beaches planned in the federal project. Instead of being buried under the vegetated dunes to work as a last-ditch protective measures, the sea wall became a first-line protector of the barrier island, creating large drops in the sand in the process and leading to beaches being closed to public access in the mean time.
In addition to the seven filed against Brick property owners, another four complaints have been filed in Atlantic County Superior Court against private property owners in Margate and Longport, where an Absecon Island beach and dune project has been delayed.
Another 17 complaints filed in Ocean County Superior Court against property owners on Long Beach Island, needed for the completion of an ongoing $128 million beach and dune construction project, have also been filed in the past month, the DEP said. But it is in northern Ocean County, where Superstorm Sandy decimated coastal communities, where the most holdouts remain. A total of 124 easements, held by 71 property owners, are still needed in Bay Head and another 68 easements from 50 property owners are required in Point Pleasant Beach. Property owners in those two towns have filed separate legal actions designed to block the plan.
The holdouts have cited numerous reasons for their refusal to allow the project to move forward, stemming from the potential loss of ocean views from their properties to fear that public access will be increased to the beachfront.
The DEP “is continuing to work with the U.S. Army Corps to phase the large project in smaller sections so work can begin sooner,” Friday’s statement said.
In August, Mayor John Ducey said he was told Brick will be prioritized in the case the project is broken up into smaller parts in order to build the dunes in areas ready for the work while legal actions pends elsewhere.
Helping significantly to clear the way for the obtainment of easements was a landmark decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court in July 2013, in which the court ruled oceanfront property owners were not entitled to a “windfall” for the parcels of land carved out in the easement condemnations. In the ruling, the court overturned a $375,000 judgment won by a Long Beach Island couple whose easement was condemned to make way for a dune. After the ruling, the couple settled the matter for $1.