MANTOLOKING, New Jersey — As the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, New Jersey says it has acquired 80 percent of the easements it needs to do shore protection work along the coast.
The state Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday it still needs about 400 easements, which constitute legal permission from private property owners for government to build dunes and replenish beaches on part of their land.
The Oct. 29, 2012, storm devastated large parts of the Ocean and Monmouth county coasts. Beach replenishment has been completed in many Monmouth County shore towns, but still needs to be done in some of the worst-hit Ocean County communities.
Gov. Chris Christie signed an order last year giving the state the power to do whatever is needed to acquire the easements, including seizing them through eminent domain after paying fair market value for them as compensation. Most, however, have voluntarily signed the easements.
"Governor Christie and I have been extremely clear on this matter," said DEP Commissioner Robert Martin. "Sandy taught us sobering lessons about the critical need for beach and dune systems as an integral part of making New Jersey more resilient in the face of future storms and floods. We commend the property owners who have done the right thing by working with us and understanding their civic responsibility in helping to protect their communities and their neighbors. Those who continue to hold out must step up as well, or we will take necessary steps to secure those easements."
When Christie signed the order, the state needed approximately 2,850 public and private easements. Acting Attorney General John Hoffman said the state is working vigorously to acquire the remaining 400 "without paying a king's ransom as compensation."
Backed by the state, the shore towns of Ocean City, Longport and Middletown have adopted resolutions under the Disaster Control Act taking approximately 20 easements that were not provided voluntarily by property owners. New Jersey also issued an administrative order taking approximately 15 easements needed in Elsinboro, a Salem County community on the Delaware River.
A turning point in the gathering of easements came in July 2013 when the state Supreme Court issued a landmark decision ruling that courts must take into account the protective value of dunes as well as their harmful effect on property values from lost waterfront views in determining compensation.
A Harvey Cedars couple who sued and were awarded $375,000 for their lost ocean views settled longstanding litigation and accepted $1 for their easement, setting a precedent that many others followed.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
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