Toms River signs major “holdout” in battle for protective dunes

 New Jersey lawmakers are wondering why the state was awarded just $15 million -- while New York received more than $200 million -- for flood-protection efforts such as these dunes along Normandy Beach. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

New Jersey lawmakers are wondering why the state was awarded just $15 million -- while New York received more than $200 million -- for flood-protection efforts such as these dunes along Normandy Beach. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

Toms River, N.J., is a big step closer to securing land agreements needed in order for the state to build a system of protective dunes – a major piece of its plan to protect its coastline post-Superstorm Sandy.

The town’s last large “holdout” has agreed to give the state access to its beaches.

 

John McDonough has legal power over three stretches of sand totaling almost 2,500 feet of beachfront in the Ocean Beach section of Toms River.  Last spring, Mayor Tom Kelaher publicly slammed McDonough for not agreeing to give the state access to build dunes, calling him “selfish.”

“I guess if I was in the FBI, I’d say we put him on the ten most wanted list,” Kelaher said.

But after months of discussions with New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, town officials and McDonough have brokered a peace. McDonough is signing the easement in exchange for guarantees that Ocean Beach can continue to put up temporary sand fences and shift the beach sand for cleaning.

“We wanted to make sure that if we did anything, we wanted to be able to maintain our beach and keep it as nice as it’s always been,” said McDonough.

The agreement will also create a pathway with mats on the backside of the dunes that will allow community members to reach beach access points and allow homeowners to remove sand that blows over the newly formed dunes onto private property.

Despite his initial critcism, Mayor Kelaher says McDonough actually had some legitimate concerns, but he doesn’t regret calling him out publicly.

“I told him we’ll kiss and make up and sign the agreement and live happily ever after,” said Kelaher.

McDonough says the public shaming didn’t bother him.

“Lot of folks did have a lot of comments to make, which is OK, that’s a part of everyday life,” he said. “As I learned a long time ago, dogs bark, people talk. I’d don’t pay too much attention to what people say.”

Toms River now has 35 of the 40 easements it needs. The town is hoping that two of McDonough’s neighbors will follow his lead, meaning it might only have to resort to using eminent domain powers to access three properties.  Work on the beaches is expected to start in September.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.