Opponents of New Jersey's plan to create protective sand dunes launched a new legal battle against it Thursday, hours before similar work advanced at the opposite end of the shore.
In southern New Jersey, five homeowners in Margate sued the state and federal governments Thursday seeking to block a hotly contested dune project between their homes and the ocean.
The owners say the sand piles would create flooding and standing water that won't be able to get back out to sea. The town government and individual homeowners in Margate have been fighting the plan for years.
Their lawsuit against the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeks to block the project from being built.
It says it seeks "to prevent the project from causing water to pond on public beaches for days and possibly weeks, breeding bacteria and disease including potentially the Zika virus, causing a safety hazard, decreasing the public's ability to access, use and enjoy the beach."
Jordan Rand, a lawyer for the homeowners, said the state knows it will create flooding problems by building the dunes.
"This is a case about taxpayers looking out for their community as the Christie administration has attempted to impose this project by brute force without regard to the United States Constitution, state law and, now, the real world consequences that the people of Margate will have to live with for the next 50 years," he said.
New Jersey has launched condemnation proceedings against property owners. DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said Thursday the work could start in December. He promised the state would address any flooding or ponding that might result from the dunes.
"If this project causes flooding issues or standing water, we will work with them to address that," he said.
The renewed resistance comes as a flood control project on the northern Jersey shore along Raritan Bay is about to add flood gates and levees. The DEP and federal and local officials held a ceremony Thursday to mark the start of the second phase of a $105 million protective project in Middletown, which sustained serious damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The new work will add a system of levees, a flood wall, a tide gate that can be shut during bad storms to prevent surges of water making their way inland, road closing barriers, pumping stations, and the raising of some low-lying roadways.
Martin contrasted the support of Middletown officials for the dune plan to the pockets of opposition that remain in several spots along the shore.
"Anytime a town is on your side it makes a difference to make things happen," he said.
In addition to the Margate homeowners, the state is battling a group of Bay Head homeowners who say the protective rock wall they built with their own money should exempt them from the dune project, which they fear won't be fully funded over the next few decades.
The state also is seeking easements from individual homeowners in Point Pleasant Beach, Mantoloking, Brick, and on Long Beach Island before the dune project can begin in those areas. Martin has estimated that work could begin in the spring once the necessary approvals have been obtained, either voluntarily or through legal condemnation proceedings.