N.J. files first eminent domain actions against beachfront property owners

     South Seaside Park dunes in August 2014. (Photo: Justin Auciello/for NewsWorks)

    South Seaside Park dunes in August 2014. (Photo: Justin Auciello/for NewsWorks)

    New Jersey officials have filed the first eminent domain actions against beachfront property owners that have refused to sign easements to allow the federal government to build engineered beach and dune projects, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin and Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced today.

    The eminent domain actions, filed in Superior Court, involve a property in Ship Bottom and Ocean City, the officials said in a release.

    “Owners of beachfront properties up and down the coast have overwhelmingly stepped forward and done the right thing,” Martin said. “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.”

    Work on numerous coastal protection projects is underway along a significant portion of the shore.

    The state has secured 90 percent of the 4,279 easements required, the release said. 388 easements, from 244 property owners, are still needed.

    The bulk of the remaining easements required are in northern Ocean County, which was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Of the 326 outstanding easements, 123 are in Bay Head and 68 are in Point Pleasant Beach.

    “The property easements we have obtained, and the easements we still seek, are vital to coastal protection efforts that benefit all New Jersey residents,” said Hoffman.

    Thacher Brown of Bay Head, who is concerned about giving the state a perpetual interest in his private land, and 14 neighbors financed and built a rock revetment and covered it with sand and vegetation to make the 23-foot dune that now stands in front of his house.

    “We don’t think we need (an Army Corps dune) in Bay Head because we already have substantial dunes underpinned by rocks,” Brown said. “We think the sand they pump in will just wash away, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll ever replenish again in the future.”

    Bay Head residents are already planning their response if the state files for eminent domain, and say it may involve pushing for compensation. 

    State officials say they will continue fighting to obtain the easements necessary to protect the public. 

    “We appreciate that many property owners – clearly mindful of the destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy – have unselfishly donated easements for the greater good rather than engage the State in protracted litigation. But to those who continue to hold out, our message is that we remain committed to acquiring these easements as expeditiously as possible, and – consistent with a landmark Supreme Court decision issued in 2013 – without paying windfalls at the public’s expense,” Hoffman said. 

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    WHYY’s Carolyn Beeler contributed to this report. 

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