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August 02, 2017

Back to court: Margate wants judge to reconsider botched beach dunes plan

Shore town vows to fight feds and state over dunes project that created giant ponds on beach

A day after finding bacteria associated with fecal matter in huge ponds resulting from the installation of beach dunes by the Army Corps of Engineers, Margate is heading back to court to stop the project.

The city would also like a public forum with the federal agency.

But a city official said Wednesday he doubts the Corps is willing to "meet an angry mob."

Commissioner Maury Blumberg added, "Now it is up to the Army (Corps) and the (New Jersey) Department of Environmental Protection to admit the project was all wrong and to fix it."

Steve Rochette,  a Corps spokesman, declined comment on the litigation and said for now the engineers are focused on "dewatering" the ponds and raising their elevation so ponding does not happen again. The DEP likewise declined comment.

Blumberg on Monday had labeled the ponds "cesspools." 

Water quality testing has since proved him right and additional tests are pending, he said Wednesday.

Blumberg said the Corp's initial attempt at emptying the large ponds during the day on Tuesday backfired, simply creating new ponds elsewhere on the beach. The pumping operation, which started Tuesday night and continued Wednesday morning, is putting the water into the ocean.

The DEP had said water quality was going to be monitored during the pumping by the Atlantic County Health Department. But that apparently did not happen. 

Water samples in the ocean were not taken until Wednesday, according to the county, and results will not be back until Thursday.

Shallow ponds of water remained on the beach as of Wednesday morning.

Ten beaches from Fredericksburg to Huntington avenues were closed by the city as a precaution due to safety concerns over the ponding of the polluted water, said Blumberg.

At an emergency closed-door meeting at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Margate, the same commissioners who had fought – unsuccessfully – against the dunes voted to go back to court and seek a restraining order to stop the work by the Corps and DEP.

Citizens packed the meeting before it moved into closed session. Blumberg put the turnout at more than 150.

An engineering consultant hired by Margate homeowners opposed to the traffic had accurately predicted the ponding, but his opinion was called "fantastical" by a federal judge.

Corps engineers had theorized the water would dissipate by perking down into the sand, but that did not happen following an intense rain last weekend.

Instead, the depressions filled with standing water where storm runoff collected.

The $63 million project is meant to head into Ventnor, Longport and Atlantic City, creating an 8-mile dune line the length of Absecon Island.

U.S. Rep. Frank Lobiondo, who lives in neighboring Ventnor, said Wednesday that he had spoken to the Corps after viewing the ponds with Margate officials, adding "Definitely aware and working on solution."