Jersey Shore homeowners give up on anti-dune lawsuit
MARGATE — Some of the most resolute holdouts against a plan to build protective sand dunes in a part of the Jersey Shore hit hard by Superstorm Sandy have dropped their lawsuit against the plan.
Seven homeowners in Margate, south of Atlantic City, ended their litigation Thursday against the state Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others. They were one of at least four groups of Jersey Shore property owners who filed lawsuits against Gov. Chris Christie's dune plan.
Margate sustained serious damage during the 2012 storm, and the homeowners sought to block the construction of dunes in the borough, which relies on wooden bulkheads to protect against storm surges.
But officials claimed most of the flooding came from the bay, not the Atlantic Ocean. And a federal judge in February declined to block the dunes, ruling that the opponents' fears — including transmission of the Zika virus — were not realistic.
An attorney for the Margate homeowners says they realized that nothing they would be able to do in court would prevent the project from beginning in the next few weeks.
"There is nothing meaningful that can be accomplished through litigation in the eight weeks before heavy machinery dominates Margate's beaches for the entire summer season," said Jordan Rand, the homeowners' attorney. "Only injunctive relief could have prevented that result. Now, Margate residents have to simply wait and see. Either the Army Corps' prognostications will be right, or they won't."
Citing the mosquito-borne illness that has caused birth defects in tropical areas was the most far-reaching of the many tactics used by property owners trying to prevent Christie's administration from carrying out its dune project.
The homeowners voiced fears of 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 can carry and transmit the Zika virus.
But a judge ruled that the worst fears expressed by the homeowners either weren't likely to happen, or could easily be fixed by engineering solutions or, failing that, cash compensation.
Several scientists say the possibility of the dune project causing a Zika outbreak is remote at best, noting that the type of mosquito that typically carries it isn't a problem in New Jersey. The only cases spread by local mosquitoes so far have been in Florida and Texas. And the argument has not been raised by any of the other Jersey shore towns seeking to block the project.
The judge ruled that any puddles or ponding that might occur following construction of the dunes are not likely to be worse than what is already there without the dunes.
Testimony recently concluded in another case in which homeowners in Bay Head are trying to convince a judge that the $5 million they spend on a privately built rock wall provides better and more economical protection than the dune project. A ruling is expected in a few weeks.
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