The Christie administration yesterday filed an eminent-domain action against the city of Margate to secure easements on 87 municipally owned lots to allow beach and dune projects to move forward.
The project is designed to protect homes, businesses, and residents from storm surges and flooding during major storms on Absecon Island. The easement is necessary before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can undertake the federally funded $35 million coastal protection effort.
But Margate is the latest such project to enmesh the state in a dispute with a municipality and property owners overproposed in the aftermath of extreme weather, such as Hurricane Sandy.
The state Department of Environmental Protection had hoped to take ownership of easement rights through an administrative order, but the city challenged the plan and blocked it with a ruling from a federal district court judge this past January.
In filing the action in Atlantic County Superior Court, state officials expressed disappointment they were forced to use eminent domain to secure the easement, but vowed to use it to move such projects forward.
“We will continue to be very aggressive in using eminent domain as a tool to obtain the easements we need from those who continue to delay our efforts to safeguard our coast,’’ said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.
Margate Business Administrator Richard Deaney said he was not surprised by the state filing, adding “we’ve been waiting for this for some time.’’ He said the city is not against storm protection projects, but is unhappy with the way the state has handled the process.The eminent-domain action involves all city-owned properties east of an existing 12-foot high bulkhead, south of Ventnor and north of Longport. There are still 10 easements outstanding from private owners. Eminent-domain filings for those properties are going through the appraisal process.
In the case of Margate, the state offered the city a lump sum of $29,000 for all of its properties, according to Deaney. “It’s not just the money. It’s the arbitrary way they want to take our property.’’
The state has yet to enter into meaningful and good-faith negotiations with the city on the dispute, Deaney said. He also questioned how necessary the proposal to build dunes in front of the existing bulkhead is, saying the water will wash away the dunes before it reaches the wooden bulkhead.
Since Sandy, Gov. Chris Christie and administration officials have harshly criticized property owners who have balked at granting easements for the dune projects to get started.
After Sandy, the governor signed an executive order directing the attorney general’s office and the DEP to take any necessary actions to obtain property easements.
“As the flooding and erosion caused by last week’s nor’easter reminds us, the easements we seek are vital to coastal protection efforts that benefit all New Jersey residents,’’ said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. “Our message is that we remain committed to acquiring all of the easements we need as expeditiously as possible.’’
Beyond Margate, the state still needs to obtain 283 easements in northern Ocean County, one of the areas hardest hit by Sandy.
“The beach damage caused by last week’s nor’easter in northern Ocean County should serve as a wake-up call to property owners who continue to not volunteer their easements,’’ Martin said.