With only a few holdouts expected to decline signing easements that will allow a federal dune and beach replenishment project to move forward, Mantoloking has hired an attorney to deal with those who refuse to cooperate.
Borough officials at a council meeting Tuesday said that eminent domain – the public taking of the easement parcels – will be on the table.
Council President Steve Gillingham described the four to five holdouts as "selfish and short-sighted" and said the borough will begin to consider legal action and – like Long Beach Township – will publicly release the names of those who do not sign by the borough's deadline, which is Friday.
The council voted in favor of hiring attorney Paul V. Fernicola, of Red Bank, to handle "prospective condemnation actions."
"It is in the public interest that that Borough be in a position to initiate such legal proceedings as may be necessary to acquire easements from those owners, if any, who are not willing to now grant the easement," a resolution to hire Fernicola said.
"We are still pushing extremely hard," said Chris Nelson, the borough's special counsel for storm recovery.
"All easements are due back April 26," said Nelson. "If not, then I'll be calling each oceanfront owner to see where it is, and if it's not in the mail, then we'll have to move forward."
Mantoloking was decimated by Superstorm Sandy in October, which damaged nearly every home in town. It was also the site of a dune breach which created a 20 foot-deep inlet at Herbert Street that is theorized to have flooded thousands of homes on Ocean County's northern barrier island as well as in mainland Brick Township across Barnegat Bay.
Many of the residents who were flooded in Point Pleasant Borough, as well as their elected council members, have also said they believe a lot of the local flooding was caused by the breach in Mantoloking and want to know what Mantoloking will do to help prevent that type of occurrence from happening in future storms.
Other Towns Also Dealing With Deadlines
As Mantoloking begins the process of putting itself in a tougher posture toward easement holdouts, neighboring towns are also feeling the pressure.
A May 1 easement deadline set by U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R-3) is only a week away, and there are still many easements yet to be signed in Brick and Toms River townships, which make up a large chunk of the northern barrier island.
In Lavallette, where the beach is entirely owned by the municipality, the borough has signed a single easement authorizing the project. Brick and Toms River also have likewise supported dune and beach replenishment for their public beaches.
In Brick, Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Environmental Protection recently agreed to remove language in the easement documentation that called for the project to "implement the Public Trust Doctrine and ensure permanent public access, use and enjoyment of the beach and ocean."
That paragraph has been a sticking point for private property owners who did not want to see public access to their beaches.
Additionally, language in the easement documentation has changed to reflect that the easement can only be used for a specific dune renourishment project and maintenance – in effect, it could never be used by a future mayor or governor as license to install a boardwalk, bathrooms or other features.
"As the governor has said, he is going to make sure that easements are given, one way or another," said Acropolis.