Margate’s efforts to make dune-building a local decision may no longer matter. A provision in Gov. Chris Christie’s executive order designed to streamline efforts related to dune construction and other flood hazard risk reduction measures may eliminate the need for local approval.
The order, issued Wednesday following the announcement of the state’s $1 landmark settlement with a Harvey Cedars couple over the value of a lost view due to dunes, states that no municipality can “enact or enforce” any regulation, ordinance or other measure that would interfere with the state’s efforts to build dunes as flood-control measures.
“There is no exception for Margate or any other town along the New Jersey coastline,” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak wrote in an email. “The desire by the few to maintain a beach-level view of the waves does not trump public safety or property protection for neighbors and businesses around them.”
Margate is the only municipality in New Jersey that requires a public vote on dune projects, as a result of a 2001 city ordinance. The city’s registered voters will cast ballots on the issue in a nonbinding referendum Nov. 5. If approved, a subsequent, binding referendum will be set.
The pending vote has been causing much debate in Margate, with neighbors standing strongly on both sides of the issue, some using their own money to hire an independent engineer to get more information before ballots are cast.
But John Miller, legislative chair with the New Jersey Association for Floodplain Management, said with the enactment of this order, that vote may not matter.
"With Margate having a referendum (I think) he's trumping that," Miller said. "The governor has said he wants 127 miles of dunes, and this order says he's pretty serious about it.”
The order also announced Christie’s creation of the Office of Flood Hazard Risk Reduction Measures within the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which will coordinate and lead efforts to acquire the necessary property to build dunes.
“To me, this especially is a big deal,” Miller said. “The governor was saying he would do this and now he's throwing in the power of his office and the Attorney General's Office. He's not standing by and cheerleading and threatening. He's actually moving into action.”
In a radio interview with New Jersey 101.5 Wednesday, Christie said he’s been warning the state’s beachfront property owners to voluntarily hand over the easements for months.
“I gave people an opportunity to come forward voluntarily. Now we’re taking it,” he said. “For anyone who’s looking to litigate with us, let me make it really clear: We’re not going to pay your legal fees after you lose, and look at what happened with the Harvey Cedars couple: One dollar.”
In Margate, 10 easements are needed for the dune project to move forward.
Margate City Solicitor Scott Abbott said the city has sent letters to those property owners, but hasn’t received a response.
“I think what the governor is trying to do is to relieve towns like Margate from having to take on that financial burden,” Abbott said. “The legal process to get those easements would have be a tremendous expense for the city.”
In terms of the order’s potential effect on Margate’s referendum, Abbott said after briefly looking over its wording, it does suggest it could have an effect on the ordinance, which he was surprised by.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before, negating the right of the people to vote,” he said. “I’m not saying he can’t do it, but this is just an order of one man.”
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