If eminent domain proceedings are not settled soon, the township could potentially have to wait close to another year before a federal beach replenishment project begins, officials said.
Brick had a total of 21 individual property owners and four homeowners’ associations that refused to sign easements allowing the project, in which 22 foot dunes and at least 200 feet of beach berm, would be constructed to protect the integrity of the barrier island. Of the 25 homeowners, 21 have had eminent domain complaints filed against them, Mayor John Ducey said, down from 32.
Of the four homeowners’ associations, two are expected to ultimately sign the easement documents by Friday, said Joanne Bergin, the township’s business administrator.
In the end, seven homeowners – including state Assemblyman Jack McKeon (D-Essex), who owns a summer home in the private Ocean Heights development – agreed to accept the state’s offer for their slivers of land which need to be accessed by construction crews in order for the dunes to be built.
The eminent domain cases are currently pending before Superior Court Judge Marlene Lynch Ford. If the matters are not settled shortly, Ducey said, the project may not go out to bid until next fall, meaning it is likely work would not start until close to a year from now.
“The bidding process … there’s going to be legal challenges to that as well,” Ducey predicted.
The beach replenishment and dune-building project, funded by the federal government, was supposed to have already been completed following the installation of a steel wall. The dunes were supposed to have been built over top of the wall, but since the project never got off the ground, waves have scoured sand from the base of the wall, creating close to 20-foot drops in areas. There is a possibility that some beaches may remain inaccessible come summer.
“We’re going to do what we can to provide access ramps,” said Ducey.
A coastal storm battered local beaches Monday and Tuesday, with Toms River bringing in crews to build temporary berms in their portion of the Normandy Beach neighborhood. Brick’s portion was largely protected by the wall, but some residents said the southernmost streets remain vulnerable.
“We’re out there every day, including at 6:30 a.m. at high tide,” said Bergin.
The township has a contract for emergency sand deliveries if required, and has a stockpile of sand ready to deploy. Bergin said the township’s sand supply, however, is finite.
“We don’t have another $1 million budgeted this year for more sand, so we are careful not to have it depleted,” she said.