In front of a roomful of angry residents at Margate’s City Hall yesterday, the city’s board of commissioners voted unanimously to take legal action against the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
It’s seeking an immediate halt to the corps’ controversial dune-building project. Heavy rains last weekend left pools of water on the street-side of the dunes, and residents blame the corps’ construction of dunes for that. Residents are worried about the potential health hazards of that standing water. They say they are also angry that the work has led to a drop in the number of visitors to Margate and damage to businesses.
The corps has been working on a $63 million project to add beaches and dunes along Absecon Island. Other municipalities have welcomed the work, but it has always been unpopular in Margate, which tried to stop it, saying it was unneeded.
Mayor Michael S. Becker said the city has not signed a contract with the corps, and will not pay the local share typically required of municipalities for similar federal projects.
The central argument in Margate against the project concerns drainage. And frustration boiled over after last weekend’s torrential rainfall created large ponds behind the dunes; locals have derisively named them “Lake Christie.” The corps is pumping the water out, but the ponds remain.
Residents at yesterday’s meeting said the problem isn’t rain, but that the corps dug below the water level. “As any 8-year-old with a shovel and a bucket knows already, the closer you get to the ocean, the sooner you’re going to hit water,” said Dan Gottlieb, a longtime critic of the project.
Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the corps, said it is focused on pumping the water from behind the dunes, and will change the elevation of the basin area, making them a foot higher. “We’re also moving forward with building elevated temporary walkways between the street ends and the dunes to help restore access,” he said.
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