In the dead of winter, the dune wars are heating up at the Jersey shore.
More oceanfront homeowners are going to court to try to block protective sand dunes from being built near their homes, on land they currently own. At the same time, the state is increasing the pace of its court filings seeking to condemn strips of beach needed for the project.
The latest group to take on the state Department of Environmental Protection is a group of 11 oceanfront homeowners in Point Pleasant Beach, who filed a lawsuit last month challenging the agency's legal right to move forward with the dune project. They join the privately-owned Jenkinson's beach, and homeowners in Bay Head, Long Beach Island, and Margate who have launched court challenges to the plan, temporarily stalling it in their areas.
"The state cannot do what it's trying to do," said Anthony DellaPelle, who represents the Point Pleasant Beach homeowners, as well as nine Bay Head residents who sued the state seeking to be exempted from the dune project, asserting a privately built rock wall affords them enough protection against storms.
He said the state is wrongly asserting its right to acquire the property under eminent domain, where privately owned property can be taken by a government for a publicly needed project after fair compensation is paid. DellaPelle said the state does not have legislative authority to take these private property rights, and is relying on the wrong statute to make its property claims.
"We are asking the court to make a ruling that they don't have these powers," he said.
Meanwhile, the state has revved up legal efforts to obtain the easements needed for the dune project after threatening to do so for more than two years after Superstorm Sandy; the filings began last year and have increased in frequency over the last month.
So far, the state has filed condemnation proceedings against 82 private properties and one publicly owned parcel in Margate. The filings target six private parcels in Margate; four in Longport; two in Ocean City; 36 in Long Beach Township; one each in Beach Haven and Ship Bottom; 22 in Brick; and five each in Point Pleasant Beach and Mantoloking.
Homeowners have given a variety of reasons for opposing the dune project, despite the fact that areas that were protected by dunes fared better during Sandy than those that did not have them. Some fear the government will use their land to erect public facilities like boardwalks and public bathrooms (the state denies any such intent). Others resent the taking of private property by government, and still others say the amounts being offered as compensation for the loss of their land and ocean views are insufficient; many of the state's recent offers in Ocean County have been for $750.
Some private beach associations also want the right to be able to maintain their dunes after the project is built.
Christie has listed Bay Head among a handful of dune opponents he considers selfish. In October, the governor encouraged people to knock on doors of homeowners in Bay Head and Point Pleasant Beach and ask why they haven't signed easements to permit the work.
Jenkinson's is in settlement talks with the state over a lawsuit it brought challenging the dune project, and Margate is continuing its court battle with the state.
A slew of court cases opposing the state's effort to take land for the project is expected to be heard next month.