Condo group heads to court this week to fight dune project

An Ocean County condominium group is heading to court this week in an effort to stop a federal dune project that its representatives say will put the community at risk.

Midway Beach, an enclave of mainly summer bungalows just north of Island Beach State Park in the South Seaside Park section of Berkeley Township, is well-known for its privately-built high and wide dunes that saved the community from tidal flooding during Superstorm Sandy.

New Jersey is seeking to exercise its eminent domain powers to seize a 1,600-foot strip of oceanfront land for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct 22-foot high dunes. The plan is a component of an already underway dune construction project along the northern Ocean County barrier island.

A court brief submitted by Anthony Della Pelle, the condominium association’s attorney, indicates that the state has previously conceded that the existing system comprised of dunes with an average height of 27 feet and width of 150 feet are “higher, larger, and stronger” than the state’s plan.

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In a Facebook post Monday morning, a Midway Beach representative called out to the community to attend the 9 a.m. Friday hearing at Ocean County Superior Court in Toms River.

“Because there are currently no revisions to the State’s blueprints excluding Midway’s dunes from being reduced in size, we can’t help but to assume this will happen,” the posting said.

Larry Hajna, a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesman, has previously said properly engineered beaches and dunes protect lives and property.

“We commend those property owners and coastal communities that have worked cooperatively over the years to provide easements that are necessary for construction of a coast-wide system of engineered beaches and dunes,” he said. “They recognize the importance of protecting their own communities as well as mutually protecting their neighboring communities.”

An Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said the agency would probably not change but the dune height but instead increase width around or in front of the dune system, according to a late October Associated Press report.

In a WHYY report earlier this year, Dominick Solazzo, the condominium association’s resident dune expert and maintainer, said for decades, volunteers have built up the expansive dune system organically through creative erosion control without any tax dollars.

But if the state gets control of the dune system, he says, the condominium association “will no longer legally be able to maintain the dunes as we have,” citing seasonal installations of fencing, beach grass and native plantings, using Christmas trees to help build the dunes, and any emergency repairs.

Stewart Farrell, director of the Stockton University’s Coastal Research Center, said the Midway Beach system represents the “the most dynamic ‘bootstrap’ dune project on the coast,” according to a National Geographic article,

“There’s no need for bulldozers or shovels when the wind does the work of building the dune,” he added.

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