Lavallette residents presented officials with a petition that had attracted about 1,600 signatures by Monday night, asking for beach access points to be reopened on every street in town.
Ultimately, borough council members unanimously rejected the immediate construction of dune crossovers as well as a measure that would have placed a non-binding question on the matter on the November ballot, saying that access points are already planned for every street as part of the upcoming U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment project.
For several seasons, many beach access points have been closed as the borough has tried to balance the issue of access with the integrity of dunes that have not recovered since they were badly battered during Superstorm Sandy. Several residents, including those who organized the petition, told officials at a council meeting Monday night that the reduction of access points has led to overcrowding on the beaches near the present dune cuts as well as a reduction of rental prices for homes on streets that no longer have their own entrance to the beach.
Some residents said the lack of access points was also a safety issue.
“It started thundering and lightning, they cleared the beach and you could not get off that beach,” Dover Avenue resident Mitch Hoch told the governing body. “You’re going to really have a serious accident, it’s really dangerous.”
Officials cited several issues with creating the crossovers. First, crossovers for every street are already planned as part of the upcoming federal beach replenishment project that is expected to go out to bid in September. If the crossovers were to be constructed now, taxpayers would be paying construction costs for staircases that would literally be removed as soon as the replenishment project begins after the new year. Mayor Walter LaCicero said just one walkover would cost $150,000.
“I can’t justify the expenditure for something that, at this point, is very temporary,” Councilwoman Joanne Filippone said. “By the time you come back next season, I believe that the project will be pretty well completed. This will be solved for all of us. There will be an access point at every beach when the project is done.”
When a resident asked why Mobi-Mats couldn’t simply be draped over the dune to allow for a crossing, Borough Attorney Eric Bernstein explained that such an action would be illegal and would subject the borough to a fine that, potentially, could add up to a half-million dollars. Officials, he said, had already asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to permit more access before the replenishment project.
“The state has been consistent in saying ‘no’ throughout,” said Bernstein.
At times, the hourlong debate divided full-time and part-time residents, with many regulars at council meetings clapping for LaCicero’s objection to the plan. Above and beyond the cost – and the potential fines – was the concern over winter nor’easters that would have the potential to breach a damaged dune line.
“The nor’easters here, if you’re here year-round, can be brutal,” said Filippone. “It really, truly amazes me that you’re so willing to risk your properties, and the properties of your neighbors, just so you don’t have to walk a block or two.”
LaCicero said adding crossovers now would “weaken and destroy” the fragile dunes that protect the borough from the wrath of coastal storms.
For Councilman Michael Stogdill, the high cost of constructing walkovers that may only be used for the remainder of the current summer season was too much to bear.
“It just doesn’t make economic sense to spend that amount of money for a month or so,” he said.
LaCicero also said the petition failed to delineate voters and taxpayers from nonresidents. One signer, for example, wrote “Regular at the Crab’s Claw” under the address form.
“We understand the sentiment of the people in town,” said LaCicero, who added that he fought for access points on every block to be included in the beach replenishment plans. “We know that the people want the access points on every street. We go to the beach, too.”