Major beach owner sues state, feds over dune project
POINT PLEASANT BEACH (AP) -- A major Jersey shore beach owner is suing the state, the federal government and the borough of Point Pleasant Beach over a project to establish protective sand dunes along the state's shoreline.
Jenkinson's Pavilion, one of the state's largest and most popular beaches, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court claiming the project would transform its privately owned beach into a public one. The lawsuit seeks clarifications on just what the government can do in its efforts to carry out the project along the state's 127-mile coastline.
Gov. Chris Christie began a push to erect dunes along the entire coastline after parts of the Jersey shore with dunes fared much better during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 than those that didn't. The work is being carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of a beach replenishment project.
John Buonocore Jr., a lawyer for the family-owned beach, said the documents the company is being asked to sign would give the state Department of Environmental Protection ownership of what would become a public beach. Both sides have tried for more than a year to work things out, and the state says it has no interest in changing the privately owned character of the beach.
"The dunes are not the problem here," Buonocore said. "This deed gives the DEP the right to operate a public beach. The public already has the right to access the beach, and Jenkinsons allows the public onto its beach for a fee. So what's going on here?"
Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency thought an understanding had been reached.
"We don't believe the Army Corps' project would interfere with or hamper their business efforts at all, while the project would offer significant protection to the other business and residences near and behind Jenkinson's," he said. "The state's sole intention is to create a more resilient and protective coastline in this area, and for the entire state."
Mayor Vincent Barrella said Jenkinsons would be compensated financially for any property lost.
"Obviously they think that having a flat beach for people to lie on during the summer is more important than providing protection for their fellow taxpayers, and that's truly disappointing," he said.
Flood damage from Sandy extended far inland from the waterfront in Point Pleasant Beach, which did not have dunes.
Numerous New Jersey oceanfront property owners have objected to a requirement that they sign easements for a portion of their beaches to allow for dunes to be built. Some object to losing their oceanfront views; others fear that their privately owned portions of sand between their homes and the public beaches will also become public. And some even fear the construction of amenities like hot dog stands, restrooms or even Ferris wheels on their land, even though officials insist there are no such plans.
Christie has vowed the state will use eminent domain to seize the land if they don't sign.
The Jenkinson's lawsuit is the latest in a series of obstacles posed by oceanfront property owners against the beach plan.
The city of Margate, just south of Atlantic City, recently won a temporary court order blocking the dune construction plan, and property owners on Long Beach Island have filed a similar lawsuit. Homeowners in Bay Head also want out of the project, but instead of litigation, they are spending $5 million of their own money to build a protective rock wall along the coast.
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)