Oceanfront homeowners between Manasquan and Barnegat inlets are being urged to sign easements necessary for a beach renourishment project to get off the ground by May 1, officials said Thursday.
U.S. Rep Jon Runyan (R-3) wrote to the mayors of a number of northern Ocean County municipalities this week urging them to secure all necessary easements for the massive dune and beach project by May 1, the date the Army Corps of Engineers must submit a work plan to Congress.
The project's design – which would include the construction of approximately 25-foot high dunes, 75 foot wide berms and 175 acres of dune grass in the project area – was completed in 2007, but has languished after some oceanfront homeowners refused to sign easements that would allow the work to be completed, and maintained in the future.
Homeowners have said they feared boardwalks or other attractions would be built in their backyards, despite the fact that the easements cover only dune renourishment work. Other homeowners have refused to sign because they say the dunes would block their view of the ocean and reduce the value of their homes.
Brick Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis, one of the mayors contacted by Runyan, said his town would need approximately 79 homeowners to sign easements as well as a number of private beach associations. A meeting has been scheduled between township officials and those homeowners March 23.
Acropolis said the state Department of Environmental Protection has set its own deadline of April 1 for the easements to be signed.
"Call me naive, but I don't think it will be too much of a problem" getting homeowners to sign, Acropolis said.
In the past, he said, Brick residents have been amenable to signing.
Toms River officials again stressed this week during a council meeting that they want the easements signed, and had such a dune been in place during Sandy the damage would have been far less severe.
The dune could also help mitigate flood insurance costs, as its height could be taken into account in future flood maps, council members said.
Acropolis said if homeowners do not sign by the state's deadline of April 1, he expects action from the state legislature as well as Gov. Chris Christie before the federal deadline a month later.
That action could include the passage of a bill that would cap the amount paid to homeowners if their easement was to be taken by eminent domain – thus far a last resort for oceanfront communities.
The bill is a response to an award granted to a Harvey Cedars couple, Harvey and Phyllis Karan. The couple received a judgment of $375,000 against that town for the small easement in front of their home that was taken as part of a beach renourishment project.
The proposal by state Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Ocean) would force courts to take into account "the added safety and property protection provided by the dune or replenished beach."
The Superstorm Sandy relief package passed by Congress in January contains $4 billion for replenishment projects, including the Manasquan to Barnegat project, Runyan's office said.
Acropolis, the Brick mayor, said he has been told work on the project could begin as early as this summer if the easements are in place since the design plans have been completed.
"Now we need to work together to ensure that the residents of shore towns sign their easements by May 1 to guarantee that this vital potentially life and property saving project is funded and constructed without delay," said Runyan, in a statement.
The mayors of Mantaloking, Toms River, Seaside Heights, Seaside Park, Lavallette, Brick, and Berkeley received Runyan's letter.