Ocean County homeowners resist NJ eminent domain for dune project

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A group of homeowners in coastal Ocean County is fighting back against the use of eminent domain by the state of New Jersey to build a series of protective sand dunes.

Seventeen homeowners in Point Pleasant, Brick, and Mantoloking argue that the state is abusing its power by taking parts of their land in an unnecessary bid to build the dunes.

Anthony DellaPelle, an attorney for the homeowners, said that all of the 17 properties already have protective sand dunes that the state is ignoring.

The homeowners “think, quite frankly, that the public resources can be put to a better use by trying to provide protection in other ways that they are not already doing on their own dimes and at their own expense,” said DellaPelle.

New Jersey and the Army Corps of Engineers began constructing sand dunes and other beach protection measures along the coastline after Superstorm Sandy caused devastating flooding from the ocean and back bays.

DellaPelle said each of the 17 homeowners had been offered between $500 and $1,000 for use of their beaches, which amounts to roughly half of the area of each property.

The state attorney general’s office, which is handling land condemnation cases, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A similar fight is playing out in Margate, near Atlantic City, where the state wants to build sand dunes but residents say an existing bulkhead provides adequate protection from flooding.

Despite these localized conflicts, many residents and scientists agree that coastal towns should take steps to protect properties from increasingly stronger storms.

“Superstorm Sandy certainly showed that dunes were a very good first defense for flooding and storm surge coming in on the ocean side,” said Lisa Auermuller, the watershed coordinator for the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve in Tuckerton, which is operated by Rutgers University.

“There is consensus that we need to look at those issues and those vulnerabilities, especially as flooding increases and gets exacerbated with factors like sea level rise,” said Auermuller. “There is not consensus about exactly the right way to do it.”

Auermuller said coastal towns looking to protect themselves from flooding and sea level rise should also consider ways to secure their back bay communities, many of which saw significant flooding during Sandy.

Many of these same areas could see significant storm surge levels and back bay flooding this weekend, as Winter Storm Jonas bears down on the Northeast.

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