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October 08, 2015

Christie files eminent domain action against Margate over coastal protection

N.J. governor gets aggressive to secure remaining easements for beach and dune construction projects

As New Jersey's coastal towns prepared last week for the possibility of an encounter with Hurricane Joaquin, Governor Chris Christie took particular aim at residents of Margate, calling them "amongst the most selfish people in the state" for their refusal to embrace sand dune construction projects that would guard against storm surges and flooding.

On Thursday, the Christie administration filed eminent domain action against the city of Margate to secure an easement that would encompass 87 municipally-owned lots for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to construct the required beach and dune projects.

To date, New Jersey property owners have voluntarily given the administration more than 90 percent of the 4,279 easements it needs to complete projects statewide. Of the 366 easements still outstanding, 87 lots are owned by the city of Margate and 10 are owned by private property owners in Margate.

“As evidenced in the damage from last week’s nor’easter and from Superstorm Sandy, all of our beaches along the Jersey Shore require maximum protection from storm surges,” said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin said. “The refusal of remaining holdouts along the New Jersey coastline to provide easements has forced us to seek condemnation of portions of their properties so we don’t further delay these critical Army Corps projects that will protect lives and property."

Martin said the state will continue to be aggressive in the use of eminent domain, which has become less cost prohibitive for the state following a landmark 2013 decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court on a Long Beach Island shore protection project. Homeowners subject to ... property taking on behalf of public projects "are not entitled to a windfall" that disregards the benefits of the projects to their own properties, according to the ruling. Previous to that, only losses, such as an obscured ocean view, could be considered.

Together, the USACE and the DEP completed eight post-Sandy beach repair projects in 2014, restoring about 45 miles of beaches along the New Jersey coast to their original protective construction design at a cost of $345 million.

The two agencies are currently undertaking a $128 million beach and dune construction project on Long Beach Island; a $57.6 million beach and dune project in southern Ocean City, the Strathmere section of Upper Township and Sea Isle City in Cape May County; and a $38.2 million project to construct beaches and improve infrastructure in the area of Loch Arbour, Allenhurst and Deal in Monmouth County.

Martin added that this past weekend should be a warning to holdouts in Margate and other towns in northern Ocean County, an area hard-hit by Sandy, where most of the remaining easements are needed.

“The beach damage caused by last week’s nor’easter in Northern Ocean County should serve as a wake-up call to those property owners who continue to not volunteer their easements," he said.