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Toms River’s New Dune Easements to Keep ‘No Boardwalk’ Language

Ortley Beach's oceanfront. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Ortley Beach’s oceanfront. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Toms River officials say new easement documents that will be drawn up to settle a dispute between the township and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over language used in a supplement document signed by oceanfront homeowners will include some of the language from that supplemental document.

The Army Corps rejected 16 easements from Toms River earlier this month necessary for the federal government to begin a beach replenishment project on Ocean County’s northern barrier island. Unlike homeowners and beach associations in other communities, Toms River added a supplemental document to easement forms indicating that no bathrooms, boardwalks or other features would be built, and owners could maintain their own dunes in the portion that was theirs.

The easements allow the federal government’s contractor access to current dunes, slivers of which are privately owned. In some cases, oceanfront homeowners have said they feared that boardwalks or other forms of public access could be constructed on their private property. The easement documents, however, state the land can only be used for beach replenishment projects.

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After the Army Corps rejected Toms River’s supplemental documentation, primarily over the language allowing owners access to the federally-protected dunes, new easement agreements must be drawn up and property owners must re-sign them. Complicating Toms River’s effort is the fact that there are numerous homeowners associations whose members must vote on the measure.

“The timing, I feel, is extremely important here,” said Councilwoman Maria Maruca, since most – if not all – of the associations have meetings in August and September. “We met with the presidents, and the Army Corps and DEP have each agreed to meet with all of the associations.”

The new easements were set to be ready for signatures this week.

“Our legal staff had looked at the draft of the easement and it looks like mostly everything that was contained in our two documents is contained in one,” said Maruca.

A recent meeting between township officials and the presidents of the associations “was very productive on both sides of the table,” Councilman Jeffrey Carr said. “We know it’s a process, but we want to be involved in that process.”

The Army Corps has announced it is willing to split the island’s beach replenishment into two phases – a northern phase and a southern phase, which would encompass the area of the Lavallette postal zone southward to South Seaside Park. Ortley Beach residents, in particular, have been calling on federal and state officials to get the project underway since beaches in that neighborhood were badly damaged in Superstorm Sandy and are currently existing with temporary berms of sand acting as makeshift dunes. Though Ortley Beach only has a limited number of easements, the public beaches cannot be replenished until the entire project is approved, which requires all of the easements to be signed.

Maruca said Toms River has approximately five property owners who refuse to sign easements under any circumstances. The dune area that would have been included in the easements for those properties will be taken by eminent domain. Appraisals on those properties have already been sent to the DEP, Maruca said.

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