Time Running Out for Oceanfront Residents to Sign Easements
Mantoloking: litigation already being drawn up; Brick: confident easements will be signed
Two of the Jersey Shore towns most vulnerable to ocean breaches say the vast majority of oceanfront residents have signaled their intent to sign easements which would allow for a federal beach replenishment project to commence.
Holdouts in both municipalities could face legal action for holding up the project, however.
"We're down to five or six to go," said Mantoloking Mayor George Nebel. "I didn't expect to be this far along at this point."
Nebel said two homeowners in his small barrier island town have indicated they would not be signing easements.
In neighboring Brick Township, Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis said most of the township's beach associations - which control access to much of the oceanfront - have indicated they, too, would sign easements allowing for dune maintenance during a replenishment project.
Brick Township also has about 35 private oceanfront homeowners.
"We're talking to those people," said Acropolis. "I've talked to several of them on the phone and they said they have no problem signing the easement."
In Mantoloking, more than 120 residents have signed easements.
The easements allow federal government contractors access to small slivers of private residential property in order to build out protective dunes and maintain them once they are in place. In some communities, oceanfront residents have refused to sign the easements, saying larger dunes would block their view despite the protection they provide. Still other homeowners have argued that the easements could be used to build boardwalks and amusement parks in their backyards, though the easements express that they are only valid for dune maintenance.
The federal government has committed to funding a beach replenishment project between Manasquan and Barnegat inlets, but only after the easements have been signed.
Since Superstorm Sandy, the pressure has been on oceanfront residents to sign the easements, since ocean breaches have been blamed for causing extensive damage to barrier island neighborhoods as well as neighborhoods in mainland Brick Township after water rushed into Barnegat Bay and flooded lagoons on the western shore.
Acropolis has even suggested mainland residents sue oceanfront owners who do not sign easements, since they put mainland residents at a higher risk of flooding.
The two mayors have said both towns may impose deadlines for oceanfront owners to sign.
Nebel said a deadline will come "soon."
"I have great patience, and my patience is wearing very thin," said Chris Nelson, a Mantoloking resident who is serving as the borough's special counsel for storm cleanup issues.
Borough attorney Edwin J. O'Malley Jr. has already begun drawing up legal papers in reference to the matter, Nelson said.
"If you don't want to sign, then, well, you'll be litigating against the borough," said Nelson.
Acropolis said Brick Township is looking into its own deadline, and its attorney would file an amicus, or "friend of the court," brief in support of any action Mantoloking decides to take against its residents who do not sign the easements.
The project's timing may also hinge on the easements coming through in short order.
"We think we can move it very, very quickly if we have the easements in," said Nelson. "The remaining holdouts may get a call from Governor Christie, which would be interesting."
Sandy, Nelson said, provided proof that beach replenishment works - specifically on Long Beach Island, Ocean County's southern barrier island, much of which has been replenished.
"Look at Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township, where they had replenishment ... the houses are still standing there and the dunes are still in good shape," he said.
But even if the easements are eventually all signed, there still may be issues getting the project off the ground, said Acropolis.
"The Army Corps hasn't said, 'if you have all those easements in place by a certain date, we'll start on the beach,'" he said.
In other words there is no set date on which the project will potentially begin, making it harder to set deadlines.
Acropolis did say that he favors petitioning the federal government to wait for the new dunes to be built before the federal government releases its final flood maps for both barrier island and mainland neighborhoods, saying the protective barrier could lessen flood zone determinations.
"They're going to come out with these new FIRM maps before this project may even be built," said Acropolis. "Down in Louisiana, they still don't have FIRM maps, seven years later [after Katrina]. That means their insurance wouldn't have gone up for six or seven years. They have to do that here."