The beach replenishment project that will include engineered dunes and rebuilt ocean beaches between Manasquan and Barnegat inlets has been included in a list of projects the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has submitted to Congress for 2013.
The project is estimated to cost $86 million, the report said, and will be funded through appropriations included in the Jan. 2013 Superstorm Sandy aid package passed by Congress.
"I am pleased that the Army Corps of Engineers understood how badly towns like Seaside Heights, Mantoloking, Lavallette, and Normandy Beach need this project constructed to prevent damage from potential future storms," said Runyan, in a statement issued Thursday. "Hurricane Sandy proved that these areas have serious vulnerabilities. We have no time to waste, and I urge the [Army Corps] to get to work on construction as soon as possible as these towns represent some of the most at risk areas on the entire New Jersey shoreline."
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.
Runyan's office had previously set a May 1 deadline for oceanfront property owners to sign easements allowing the project to go through. That date has passed, however, without the easements being signed by a large number of owners.
New Jersey lawmakers are considering legislation that would effectively cap payouts to homeowners who do not sign easements and whose slivers of dunes are taken through the eminent domain process.
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.
Toms River officials this week worried using the eminent domain process in the absence of such a law would expose the township to large financial risks.
"We could not possibly expose ourselves to that damage determination," Mayor Thomas Kelaher said before the Township Council this week.
Earlier this month, Kelaher — following the advice of Gov. Christie — began "calling out" easement holdouts. The first named was John McDonough, owner of the Ocean Beach III property where he leases homes.
Securing easements is "an ongoing problem," Kelaher said. "This is probably the most frustrating thing that I've been involved with in my life."
Mantoloking has retained an attorney to handle potential eminent domain cases, while other municipalities are still working with homeowners.
"The dune line was only set two weeks ago, so we had to give people some time to look at the line and where it is," said Brick Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis, referring to maps showing exactly where easement lines would be set in his town. "We're going to probably set our own unofficial deadline of June 15, since that will give people a full month to do what they need to do."
There have been no definitive refusals among Brick oceanfront homeowners, said Acropolis. About 40 have signed already.
"At this point, there shouldn't be anything holding back anyone from signing the easements," he said.