After powerful ocean waves stirred up by a nor’easter were prevented from sending water pouring water down the streets of Ortley Beach earlier this month thanks to emergency dune work, residents and officials in Toms River blasted the state and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for not condemning outstanding easements required for a dune building project fast enough.
“It just seems like we’re pushing up against a stone wall,” said Councilman George Wittmann, of dealing with the state in obtaining the easements. “They need to get the easements done, go to court. Three years is more than enough time to do whatever it takes to get these easements.”
Township Administrator Paul Shives said Toms River spent about $800,000 between emergency dune construction and police and public works overtime during the nor’easter. The portion of the bill that covered deliveries of sand to the township’s oceanfront will be covered at least partially by a $1 million grant provided by the state.
“It was a heroic job done by public works,” said Councilman Maurice “Mo” Hill.
Hill, however, joined his fellow members of the governing body, and several Ortley Beach residents, in calling on the state to expedite the process of obtaining the easements required to get a federal dune and beach replenishment project underway.
About 283 property owners on Ocean County’s northern barrier island have refused to sign the documents that would allow the project – which would include 22 foot-high engineered, vegetated dunes and at least 200 foot of beach berm – to get underway. Gov. Chris Christie has pledged to condemn the easements – which, in most cases, represent slivers of oceanfront land – so the project can be advertised for bid. But so far, the easements are still outstanding.
Last week, the state began the condemnation process in Margate, where there were 87 holdouts. In Margate’s case, the lots were owned by the city itself, which had refused to cooperate and sign easements to allow the work to go forward.
“It’s now time for the state to step up and invoke eminent domain on the outstanding easements and the people who won’t sign,” said Hill. “It’s time to protect life and property, and not ocean views.”
About 300 truck loads of sand were delivered to Ortley Beach before, during and after the four day-long nor’easter. One small breach was quickly plugged near the Block House lifeguard station.
“We’re predicted to have nine to 11 northeast storms this year,” said Hill. “Trucking $300,00 to $400,000 of sand during each storm is not the way to do it. Even though the DEP has given us a grant, it’s still taxpayer money and we’re throwing it away.”
Ortley Beach residents pushed for local leaders to exert more pressure on the state to act.
“We’ve gone to a rally in Trenton, we’ve had a rally in Ortley Beach,” said Debbie Martin of Ortley Beach, addressing the council. “No one above your level of government was at either of those rallies to speak to us. Have any of them looked to see the damage that occurred last week. Where are our higher officials?”
“We are constantly sending e-mails, letters and resolutions,” said Councilman Jeffrey J. Carr. “We are doing everything we can to make contact.”
“We’ve done our job,” said Councilwoman Maria Maruca. “We have gone after easements, we have met with homeowners associations. The ball is in the court of the Army Corps of Engineers and the DEP. If this storm has not proved that we need beach replenishment and dunes now, I shudder to think what else would happen.”