Many homeowners along the Jersey Shore are the recipients of a letter from New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin explaining the importance of creating a dune system and the need for easements to be signed by all oceanfront homes.While this is not the first time the state and homeowners have been embroiled in a dispute over dunes and easements, this is the first time such a letter has been sent by the DEP.

A DEP spokesperson said Superstorm Sandy was a significant enough storm that the special measure needed to be taken.

“Sandy really drove home the point how important dunes are to protecting home, property, and lives along the coast,” said Larry Hanja.

The billion dollar dune replenishment project is done by the Army Corps of Engineers, and normally the collection of signatures for easements is done by local municipalities who hand it off to the DEP who in turn get it to the Army Corps.

However, in the wake of Sandy, Governor Christie and numerous local lawmakers have publically called out homeowners refusing to sign, referring to them as selfish.

“Because of the stakes involved post-Sandy, we felt we needed to step up our role even more and become a key partner in making sure these easements are secured. So we’re offering as much support to the local government so they can get their job done,” said Hanja.

Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher supports the efforts of the letter. Upon seeing it for the first time Wednesday (he claims to have received no prior notice about it), he noted the importance of getting the signatures for the easements. Noting in some instances, homeowners are influenced by neighbors who are also refusing to sign.

Critics and those who have refused to sign the easements oppose the language within the contracts, claiming they aren’t happy with the amount of control it gives the government over their land.

Governor Christie has been outspoken in claiming those concerns “are bullshit”, noting the government has no interest in “building a hot dog stand” in anyone’s backyard. He said if need be they pursue the option of eminent domain.

For Kelaher, there are numerous challenges in obtaining all of the easements, and eminent domain would not be an ideal option. Currently they are awaiting a decision from the state Supreme Court on a case where homeowners in Harvey Cedars were awarded payouts of $375,000 when a dune was constructed and blocked their view.

Kelaher is worried that buying property through eminent domain, which wouldn’t be entire homes but rather just portions of the beach, would still become incredibly expensive and complicated for the township.

Toms River currently has roughly half of its easements signed. A May deadline to get the signatures tothe Army Corps is being considered a floating deadline according to state officials. Noting they just want to try and get all the easements as quickly as possible.


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