The gloves came off last week in three parts of a storm-weary Jersey shore.
After months of asking, cajoling, begging and threatening, three shore towns gave themselves authority to seize beachfront land from owners who are blocking the federal government from building a protective dune system a year after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc along the shore.
Mantoloking, Toms River and Ocean City passed ordinances last Tuesday enabling them to acquire small strips of land by negotiation or by seizing it under the power of eminent domain. Any land seized would have to be paid for.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot carry out the project until all oceanfront owners have either signed easements or had their land seized.
Mantoloking Mayor George Nebel said his town will soon have what it needs to proceed with the dune project.
"We are ready to go,'' he said. "I'm optimistic we can get them (voluntarily), but I don't care; we're going to take them one way or another.''
Borough spokesman Chris Nelson said Mantoloking is prepared to begin negotiations with the recalcitrant owners.
"I put 'negotiations' in quotes,'' he said. "You have to offer something. Our offer is not going to be very good. It's not going to be much money, and they (owners) are going to reject it. You have to go through that first.''
Towns that had dunes fared much better during Superstorm Sandy than those that did not. Mantoloking, which did not have dunes, was devastated, suffering the worst damage of any community at the Jersey shore. Of the 521 homes that existed in this barrier island community before the storm, every one was either damaged or destroyed.
Toms River needs to get 16 easements from holdouts. Mayor Thomas Kelaher cited the damage to Mantoloking, as well as his own township, in supporting the dune program.
"Everybody knows the better the dune, the safer the municipality is going to be,'' he said. "When the ocean came through in Mantoloking, there was nothing but devastation and sand. It's regrettable that we had to get to this point, but we're ready to proceed.''
Ocean City's 25 remaining easements are in the south end of town, which sustained damage from Sandy. The city is prepared to use eminent domain to acquire at least some of them.
The city has made offers of $50 for each of four easements it wants to acquire. The dune project will encompass about 200 lots in Ocean City _ none of which are big enough to build on, city officials say.
Mantoloking voted Tuesday to demolish its Borough Hall and build a new one; the old building was damaged beyond repair.
The state wants to build dunes along its entire 127-mile coastline.