Residents of a Jersey Shore community who lost a court battle against a controversial dune construction project are fuming after recent heavy rain left a soggy mess at the beach and reignited safety concerns.
“We had beautiful beaches,” Charlene Goldsleger of Margate, New Jersey said. “And they just came and destroyed our beaches.”
A group of homeowners in Margate filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that sought to block the construction of dunes in the borough in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The project relies on wooden bulkheads to protect against storm surges.
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The homeowners who opposed the project feared it would cause large lagoons of standing water on the beach that could contain a mixture of trash, oil and other contaminants, providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes that could potentially carry and transmit the Zika virus.
In February however a federal judge declined to block the dunes, ruling that the opponents’ fears were not realistic and stating that they either weren’t likely to happen or could easily be fixed by engineering solutions or cash compensation. Several scientists also said the possibility of the dune project leading to a Zika outbreak were remote at best since the type of mosquito that carries the virus isn’t a problem in New Jersey.
The judge also ruled the puddles or ponding the project might cause likely wouldn’t be worse than what was already there without the dunes. The homeowners ultimately ended their litigation in April.
Months after the lawsuit was dropped however, some Margate, New Jersey residents are now saying, “I told you so,” after downpours over the weekend left several inches of standing water near the dunes. Margate Mayor Michael Becker told NBC10 he considers the area dangerous.
“Bacteria, mosquitoes, I don’t want little children in there,” he said. “There’s certainly enough water in there that could be fatal to somebody. This has to be dealt with.”
The beach itself is mostly barren, even with temperatures near 90 degrees. Margate officials are currently testing the ponds for bacteria.
A spokesperson with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers told NBC10 the water in the basin area between the bulkhead and dune is not percolating due to oversaturation by the recent rain and a weekend deluge. When asked whether that was a problem or a design flaw, a spokesperson for the DEP said, “I don’t think we’re at that point yet.”
Goldsleger disagrees however.
“There are children down there playing,” she said. “Something is going to happen. There’s going to be an accident and it’s going to be a lawsuit.”
Mayor Becker called an emergency meeting for commissioners Wednesday morning to discuss the issue and possibly come up with a plan to hire an attorney and file an injunction to stop the project.
“My hope will be that that passes and we hire a good attorney who will obviously get this project stopped,” he said.
“No Swimming” signs were installed near the dune project site Monday morning. The spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers said they plan to fill the basin with sand and build walkways to restore beach access.