NJ, shore property owners prepare for dune construction fight


    As hurricane season approaches, New Jersey is teeing up to fight property owners on the shore who refuse to allow dunes to be built on their property.

    Nearly 400 easements, deeds that give permission for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build protective dunes on privately owned beachfront land, are still outstanding, leaving a giant hole in dune defenses in northern Ocean County.

    “We’re going to have to go through full eminent domain process on those,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin. “We’ve got a lot of people that are being very selfish right now.”

    The New Jersey Attorney General’s office said it will file eminent domain proceedings “as soon as possible” to obtain all outstanding easements, and Martin said he hopes to have the process completed by the end of summer.

    Dune plan nearly a decade in the making

    The Army Corps of Engineers has had plans in place to build dunes from Sandy Hook to Cape May since 2006. Due in part to homeowner reservations, however, when superstorm Sandy hit six years later, the shore was still a patchwork of completed and uncompleted projects.

    Homes and businesses in towns that had engineered dunes fared far better during Sandy than those without, and in 2013, Governor Chris Christie ordered state agencies to do whatever it took to complete an engineered dune system along the entire shoreline.

    Since then,  property owners have signed roughtly 2,500 easements.

    Last week, dune construction started on Long Beach Island in the Borough of Ship Bottom, where some of the shore’s most vocal hold-outs finally capitulated last June.

    “We give in,” said Dorothy Jedziniak, who, along with her husband Ted, owns a home and rental property on the shore. “We’re not going to fight anymore.”

    The Jedziniaks already had a sizeable dune on the property they have owned for more than 45 years, but they worried about increased public access on their private property and the possibility of a boardwalk and bathrooms being built in front of their home.

    Over the past few years, the elderly couple met with officials who clarified the terms of the easement, and the state added a specific no-build clause to the document to allay fears of front yards being transformed into beachfront attractions.

    Finally, after nearly a decade of cajoling from officials and “a lot of abuse” at community meetings, the Jedziniaks gave in.

    Officials in Ship Bottom say one easement remains unsigned in the Borough. Dredging crews are avoiding that plot of land, demarcated by orange fences on the beach, until the state files for eminent domain.

    Otherwise, officials and local residents are pleased. 

    “I’m glad this is getting done now. We need the dunes, build ’em up, it’s nice, make the beach bigger,” said Angelo Giafaglione, who lives just off the beach in Ship Bottom and has worried about potential damage his home might suffer with an unprotected Atlantic coast.

    “All the people that were complaining before about losing their (views), it’s ridiculous, it would affect everybody else in Ship Bottom.”

    Hold-outs find dunes unnecessary 

    Dune construction on Long Beach Island is slated to be be completed by next April, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Dunes from Ocean City to Avalon should be done by the end of the fall.

    dunesmapmay2015(Map courtesty of the Army Corps of Engineers)

    When these projects are finished, there will be only two sizable sections of the New Jersey Atlantic coast without Army Corps engineered storm protections: One is on Absecon Island, where Margate city officials are challenging the state’s dune plans in the courts. The larger portion is in northern Ocean County, home to the bulk of property owners refusing to sign dune-building easements.

    “We prefer to take care of our problems with our own money as opposed to wasting tax-payer money,” said Thacher Brown of Bay Head, who is concerned about giving the state a perpetual interest in his private land.

    After Sandy, Brown 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. 

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

    Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.