Judge gets high-stakes New Jersey dune wars case
BAY HEAD — A judge will consider a high-stakes, multimillion-dollar battle over whether a wealthy New Jersey shore enclave can opt out of a protective sand dune plan in an area devastated by Superstorm Sandy.
Both sides in the lawsuit brought by oceanfront homeowners in Bay Head, Mantoloking and Point Pleasant Beach filed summations Friday in the strenuously fought litigation.
Superior Court Judge Marlene Lynch Ford, who has already upheld the state’s right to use eminent domain proceedings to seize land for the dune project, will decide whether Bay Head can be exempted from it. She gave no indication as to when she will rule.
The homeowners say a rock wall they built with their own money provides adequate storm protection, but the state says an unbroken, continuous dune line is essential for avoiding a repeat of the catastrophic damage Sandy caused to the area in 2012.
“The state’s effort to condemn property owned by the property owners who pay for their own beach protection is excessive and not reasonably required for the government’s dune project,” said Anthony DellaPelle, an attorney for the homeowners. “The taking is unnecessary, arbitrary and capricious.”
The homeowners include Lawrence Bathgate II, who was the national Republican finance chairman under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and raised money for both of George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns and Jeb Bush’s 2016 primary campaign.
The property owners also portray the dune plan as an unwarranted government land grab and a waste of scarce taxpayer dollars. But Republican Gov. Chris Christie has branded the homeowners as selfish, interested more in not losing precious oceanfront views than protecting their community.
The governor even urged people to go to Bay Head and knock on the doors of oceanfront homeowners, asking why they oppose the dune project. But residents say that hasn’t happened.
The lawsuit is likely to turn on whether the judge believes the rock wall offers enough protection not only to the oceanfront homeowners, but their neighbors further inland as well. The homeowners claim the rock wall largely protected the homes behind it, but some suffered serious or even catastrophic damage.
Some homes behind the rock wall have been elevated since Sandy, and repairs to and extensions of the wall have been made, bringing the privately funded project’s cost to about $7 million.
The homeowners fear the federal and state governments won’t have the money required to replenish dunes and beaches every four years for the next 50 years, and say the government relied on faulty or manipulated cost-benefit data to justify the project.
The state Department of Environmental Protection says it only allowed the residents to extend the rock wall after Sandy as an emergency measure that would be complemented by the dune project.
In a separate court proceeding, the homeowners are appealing Judge Ford’s decision that the state has the legal right to seize land for the project using eminent domain, a process in which government can seize private property for a public purpose after paying adequate compensation for it. That case is due to be heard next month.
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