Dunes are vitally important to the coast of New Jersey. They protect against beach erosion, provide habitats for all types of species, and just as important protect property from storms and storm surges. Those places that have had intact dunes fare much better in storms like Hurricane Sandy than places that do not.
However, New Jersey has not maintained dunes properly in many areas of the state and in other areas dunes are not even required. Now we see the consequences of those actions. Nature may have brought the storms, but the failure to protect our dunes made the damage worse in some places.
In order to receive money for beach replenishment and dune replacements towns must provide public access. Unfortunately some communities would rather have no dunes than provide adequate beach access. Under the revised Beach Access Rules, the towns can now draft their own municipal plans to provide access with no standards and no enforcement if the access is not provided. Municipalities have also rejected dunes because they did not want to block views.
We have also allowed some towns to do beach replenishment and widen beaches without building dunes. We have even allowed towns to cut down their dunes so that beach bars can have better views of the water.
We have seen property owners challenge dunes because either they do not want the public on the beach or they do not want their views blocked. There was a case in Long Beach Island where property taxes were reduced because dunes blocked their view. In March a case in Harvey Cedars took this a step further with the home owners not only asking for property taxes reductions due to dunes but actually suing for compensation for the dunes being close to their property.
LBI has been one of the hardest hit areas because they do not have dunes. Long Beach Township did not have dunes in places because they did not want to provide beach access. About 300 people came out to testify against the revised Beach Access Rules in Long Beach Township last summer. The only person who spoke in favor of these rules was the mayor.
Areas such as Long Beach that were hit the hardest will be looking for more federal disaster relief to rebuild when they actually brought it on themselves. We have a system that rewards bad planning and actions by government and citizens because the places that failed to do what was right want more money to fix what they did wrong.
Now as we rebuild our dunes using public money there has to be public access. We cannot allow towns to use public money to rebuild dunes, and turn around and deny the public access to beaches or waterways.
In the last 20 years, the federal government has given New Jersey close to $500 million to do beach replenishment. The state of New Jersey has spent another $500 million. We have seen around $1 billion dollars worth of sand wash away with the last storm. It will take a lot of public money to restore our beaches and restore the dunes and public access must come along with that investment.
A recent appellate division court has ruled in the favor of dune protection. In MULLEN and LEVINE v. THE IPPOLITO CORPORATION and POINT PLEASANT BEACH, the court singled out Point Pleasant Beach for failing to protect its dunes. The court ruled that it is the responsibility of the town to protect the dunes and enforce its dune protection ordinance. Dunes were allowed to be damaged, destroyed, erode and disappear. The town did not do enough to protect the dunes from overdevelopment. With this case in Point Pleasant the court is defending the value of the dunes for protecting property and providing important environmental benefits.
We now need the New Jersey Legislature to pass legislation on dune protection since we now have the opportunity to implement good planning along our coastal areas to better protect people and property from future disasters.
Now towns are trying to rebuild the community and beaches by looking for public money. The state of New Jersey has to change its policies either at the DEP or through the Legislature. We need legislation that requires protection and maintenance of dunes as well as providing public access when towns receive beach replacement money. Otherwise we are going to be waving goodbye to more money and sand next time there is a storm.