Some Bay Head homeowners sue to get out of New Jersey protective dune plan

     Bay Head after the early Oct. 2015 coastal storm. (Photo: RCAP/Remote Control Aerial Photography and Ocean Aerial Photo)

    Bay Head after the early Oct. 2015 coastal storm. (Photo: RCAP/Remote Control Aerial Photography and Ocean Aerial Photo)

    A group of oceanfront homeowners in Bay Head is suing New Jersey, seeking to be exempted from a plan to build protective sand dunes along the state’s entire 127-mile coastline.

    The lawsuit, filed Monday in Superior Court in Ocean County, accuses the state Department of Environmental Protection of exceeding its authority by using eminent domain condemnation proceedings to seize privately owned land for the dune project.

    The homeowners say a rock wall, which they spent millions of their own money to build and maintain, is a better solution than widened beaches and sand dunes.

    “We don’t think we need (an Army Corps dune) in Bay Head because we already have substantial dunes underpinned by rocks,” said Thacher Brown of Bay Head in a NewsWorks report from earlier this year. “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.”

    But Bay Head resident Luca Zanin says that the he, along with other borough residents that live away from the beach and were impacted by Sandy, are pushing for the federal beach replenishment. 

    “The location of the rock wall/dune is such that in some areas, there is no longer a beach at high tide,” he said. “The high water line comes right up to the base of the dune, and as a result, all residents are now deprived of the use of what was once a beautiful beach.”

    A replenished beach and protective dune, along with the rock wall, “would make a truly formidable defense against future storm surge,” Zanin said. 

    Peter Michelis, a summer resident of Bay Head, agrees with Zanin’s assessment. 

    “I think that I represent a growing majority of Bay Headers that want and believe that a beach replenishment program is a necessity,” he said. “The beaches have been greatly diminished since Sandy, and without a beach replenishment, we will have no beaches and exposed rock walls along our coast.”

    Gov. Chris Christie has encouraged people to knock on doors of homeowners in Bay Head and Point Pleasant Beach and ask why they haven’t signed easements to permit the work.

    As of earlier this month, 239 easements remained outstanding statewide. 

    In June, the state filed the first condemnation actions against beachfront property owners in Ship Bottom and Ocean City that have refused to sign easements to allow the federal government to build engineered beach and dune projects.

    Work on numerous coastal protection projects is underway along a significant portion of the shore, including Long Beach Island

    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,” Acting N.J. Attorney General John J. Hoffman said in July.

    “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.”

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    The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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