Judge rules against oceanfront homeowners in dune battle

 A South Seaside Park dune in 2015. (Justin Auciello for NewsWorks)

A South Seaside Park dune in 2015. (Justin Auciello for NewsWorks)

A judge has ruled against a wealthy New Jersey shore enclave’s attempt to opt out of a protective sand dune plan.

In a 52-page decision issued after several hearings, Superior Court Judge Marlene Lynch Ford ruled for the state on Wednesday and against oceanfront homeowners in Bay Head, Mantoloking and Point Pleasant Beach.

The homeowners say a $5 million rock wall they built with their own money provides adequate storm protection, but the state disagrees.

Related: Beach replenishment not yet scheduled in N.J. community lauded for extensive protective dunes

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Bob Martin, commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, says that the ruling is a strong vindication of the state’s authority to protect people and property there.

“We are pleased to learn of the ruling of Judge Ford in our favor in this important property protection case,” he said in a statement.

A lawyer for the homeowners says they are disappointed in the ruling.

“This is a system that has not cost the government a penny, and it is a system that has worked,” said Anthony Della Pelle, the attorney for the homeowners, earlier this year. “The only people who it would protect are the people in this courtroom today — and they don’t want it. That is the biggest irony of all.”

Ford previously upheld the state’s right to use eminent domain proceedings to seize land for the dune project.

Since Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey officials have sought and obtained around 4,000 property easements from beachfront property owners necessary for beach replenishment and dune building projects along the nearly 130-miles coastline.

The state has since obtained the vast majority of the easements, but some remain, especially in northern Ocean County.

The state Department of Environment Protection announced in March that easements were still outstanding in the South Seaside Park section of Berkeley Township, Bay Head, and Point Pleasant Beach.

In July 2015, the state filed its first lawsuits against non-compliant property owners in Ship Bottom and Ocean City.

“Owners of beachfront properties up and down the coast have overwhelmingly stepped forward and done the right thing,” Martin said at the time. “Unfortunately, a few holdouts continue to refuse to provide easements, forcing us to seek condemnation of portions of their properties so we can move forward with projects that will protect lives and property.”

Gov. Chris Christie similarly has had choice words for those continuing to battle beach replenishment.

In January 2016, he said projects shouldn’t be held up by “very selfish homeowners” that use a “fake excuse” of the state planning to take property to build “a ferris wheel or a hot dog stand” on their land.

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