BRICK, New Jersey — A New Jersey state assemblyman who has refused to sign an easement allowing a dune project to be built behind his oceanfront house is among seven homeowners being sued by the state.
The state Department of Environmental Protection on Friday said it has filed eminent domain lawsuits against seven private property owners in Brick Township to seize strips of their beachfront property to build dunes. The move marked the start of a push to clear the way for protective dunes in an area that was the hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy.
John McKeon, a northern New Jersey Democrat, owns the house in the South Mantoloking section of Brick with his brother, Alfred. He represents Essex and Morris counties.
McKeon said he has been maintaining his own dune, and wants to ensure that the state's project meshes with his own before he'll sign the easement.
"My family and I are not looking for one penny, nor anything other than to assure that there will be an integrated dune system," he said. "Our family home survived because of the meticulous nature by which we maintained the dune for years. Our concern has always been about where the dune is going to be sited and whether we would be permitted to maintain it on a going-forward-basis."
The DEP also said Friday it is going after four property owners in Margate and Longport, where a dune project is being stalled by resistance from Margate officials and homeowners. Another 17 cases have been filed on Long Beach Island within the past month.
Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to build protective dunes along the state's entire 127-mile shoreline, but some homeowners object to the government taking private property for a public purpose, and some fear the loss of valuable oceanfront views.
Areas that had dunes fared much better during Sandy than those without them.
"It is disappointing that we need to go through such considerable legal efforts to obtain easements from holdouts who continue to delay our efforts to safeguard our coast, particularly in northern Ocean County, where Superstorm Sandy did the most damage," said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. "We will continue to be aggressive in seeking condemnation of portions of remaining properties in northern Ocean County and elsewhere along the coast to avoid any further delays for these critical Army Corps beach projects that will protect lives and property."
There are 283 easements still outstanding on the northern Ocean County peninsula, held by 176 property owners.
Obtaining them won't be easy. Homeowners in Bay Head recently sued the DEP, seeking to opt out of the dune plan because they've spent millions of dollars of their own money on a rock wall they say works better than dunes and widened beaches. And the owners of the popular Jenkinson's beach in Point Pleasant Beach are suing the state to block dunes there.
Further south, Margate is also battling the state in court over dunes, saying its wooden bulkhead system is sufficient protection against storm surges.
Parts of Brick sustained catastrophic damage during the Oct. 29, 2012, storm, including a beachfront neighborhood that was wiped out by the storm surge and a raging gas-fed fire that resulted from houses being knocked off their foundations that wrecked about 100 homes.
Mayor John Ducey welcomed the eminent domain cases, and said he's surprised more residents didn't sign easements after a storm last month that severely eroded beaches.
The state would have to pay homeowners for the land seized for the project, but a state Supreme Court ruling drastically limited the amount homeowners can claim by requiring that the benefit of storm protection be considered along with the aesthetic loss of oceanfront views.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC