A federal judge ruled Thursday to let a beach replenishment project proceed – for now – over the objections of a Jersey shore town that does not want the sand piles.
Judge Renee Marie Bumb decided that neither Margate nor the state of New Jersey will suffer irreparable harm if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is allowed to award bids for the project, which she says would not begin until late April.
By then, the judge said, a state court will have had the opportunity to consider claims by Margate and two oceanfront homeowners that the state seized their property without affording them the opportunity to contest the seizure.
She also ordered the state to give at least 10 days’ notice before starting construction on the project.
Margate’s commissioners issued a statement afterward hailing the portion of the ruling that supported their position.
“We strongly agree with the Court that no government can claim ownership of anyone’s property – including our beaches – by simply filing a document declaring its ownership,” they wrote.
Margate and a couple who own a house on the beach, Morton and Roberta Shiekman, sued the state in U.S. District Court to block the project from moving forward. The Army Corps had planned to award a contract by the last week in January.
The affluent shore town south of Atlantic City doesn’t want dunes, saying they are unnecessary, will destroy the aesthetics of its popular beach and scare away tourists during construction. The plaintiffs said they had no mechanism to challenge the legality of New Jersey’s use of an administrative order seizing private land for the project without undergoing condemnation proceedings in state court.
Bumb appeared to agree during the hearing, saying the state’s attitude was troubling.
“What you’re saying is that the state can do whatever it wants. ‘You have a problem with that? Sue us,’ “she said. “Imagine what that says to the public – that the state will do whatever it wants, and it can, because if we’re wrong, they can sue us. That just seems to be so unacceptable in the confines of the Constitution.”
Voters in Margate twice passed a referendum opposing a dune for their town, which wants the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to exclude them in its dune project. Margate argues that its existing bulkhead system is sufficient, and that the worst flooding from Superstorm Sandy came from the bay on the opposite side of town. But the neighboring towns of Ventnor and Longport want the project, and say Margate’s resistance could scuttle badly needed protection for all three towns.
The Army Corps has said it will not build the project in piecemeal fashion.
Margate is one of a handful of Jersey shore towns resisting the project, including Bay Head and Wildwood Crest. But it has gotten the farthest in its resistance to a project Gov. Chris Christie has vowed will be built, with or without the consent of property owners.
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