Two Jersey shore towns will move soon to seize narrow strips of oceanfront land from owners whose refusal to grant permission for the work has been blocking a desperately needed shore protection project.
With the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy three weeks away, officials in Ocean City and Mantoloking are preparing to use condemnation proceedings to take control of land needed to build part of a protective sand dune system along all 127 miles of New Jersey’s oceanfront. Both towns are expected to take preliminary votes this week to begin the legal process.
Gov. Chris Christie recently authorized the state to coordinate legal action against about 1,000 holdouts statewide whose refusal to sign easements has held up the dune work.
While most oceanfront property owners in both towns have voluntarily granted easements allowing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to perform the dune work on their land, a small amount of owners have refused. Ocean City still needs about 65 easements, according to City Clerk Linda MacIntyre, while Mantoloking spokesman Chris Nelson said about six easements need to be obtained in his town.
“We have dealt with our beachfront property owners in good faith and made every reasonable effort to acquire the remaining easements,” Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian said in a letter to residents made public Friday. “I will not allow a few property owners to jeopardize the safety of entire neighborhoods.
“The lessons of Hurricane Sandy are not complicated,” he said. “Those areas that had viable dune systems suffered little or no damage. We support the governor’s efforts to establish such a system along the entire coastline. A handful of property owners are not going to disrupt or delay this project.”
Gillian asked the City Council to authorize condemnation proceedings as soon as Thursday.
And Mantoloking is holding a special Borough Council meeting on Tuesday to introduce an ordinance to authorize the acquisition of easements through condemnation. A final vote is expected in 10 days.
The towns can use eminent domain, a legal process in which land that is needed for publicly beneficial projects can be seized from owners, who would be paid fair market value as compensation.
Mantoloking was the hardest hit shore community by Sandy, with all its 521 buildings either damaged or destroyed by the storm. Ocean City, located nearly 70 miles to the south in an area less severely impacted by the storm, was flooded but fared better than Mantoloking.
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