MARGATE — City commis-sioners voted Tuesday to hold a nonbinding referendum in November for voters to express their opinion on moving ahead with a proposed dune project.

If residents vote no in November, the project is dead. If they votes yes on the project, the commissioners will then have to schedule a binding referendum, a requirement under a city ordinance from 2001, written during the city’s first debate over dunes in 2002 and 2003.

Approximately 200 Margate residents packed Thursday’s public meeting on the project with representatives from the state Department of Environ-mental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Commissioners had until today to make a decision that would allow a referendum in November.

Under the proposed Absecon Island Coastal Storm Risk Reduction Project, the federal government will fully finance the initial beachfill and dunes at no cost to Margate. Future costs of dune maintenance would be paid for with 65 percent by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 26 percent by the state and about 9 percent by the city.

Keith Watson, of the Army Corps of Engineers, who spoke first during Thursday’s meeting, said the goal in hosting the session was to get the information and facts on the project out there, rather than to advocate for the city to enter into it.

Ventnor and Atlantic City have been onboard with dune and beach replenishment for a decade. Longport entered into the program in April, leaving Margate as the only Absecon Island city not yet signed on.

Residents in attendance at the meeting stood firm on both sides of the issue, many speaking out against the plan, including members of a group formed in opposition, The Margate Citizens for Beach Preservation, which is led by year-round resident Dan Gottlieb.  

Steve Siedel, who is for the dune project, said he feels it would be “irresponsible” for the city and residents to choose to do nothing to protect itself from future storms.

“With sea level rising and the intensity of storms over time, we’re sitting ducks,” Siedel said. “Is that worth a view for a few?”

Margate commissioners also had mixed feelings about entering in the dune project. Commissioner Brenda Taube fully supports it, while Mayor Michael Becker and Commissioner Maury Blumberg still had questions.

“I don’t think that we’ve given our voters enough information to give a reasonable yes or no,” Blumberg said before action was taken approving the nonbinding referendum. “I think this is premature, we’re under a deadline.”

Blumberg said he has concerns such as costs of future maintenance and the effect of the quality of life in Margate. Easements are another issue. “Extensive title searches” are needed to determine which beachfront property owners could be affected by the project, Abbott said, so in the meantime the city is sending out notices to all beachfront owners that easements may be necessary.

“I have concerns that many of the people that I spoke to who live on the beach block also have,” he said. “So I question myself as to why am I asking the entire city to vote for something that is going to protect a select few who really don’t want the protection.”

If the voters say yes, the commissioners will have the opportunity to seek more answers and further explore the project, Mayor Michael Becker said.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet, either,” Becker said. “People think I’m on one side or another, but I’m not. I have questions still, too, but tonight is the first meeting in a series of meetings in which information will be given to the public. I’m not for one side or another until I get more information.”

Margate resident Carol Armon, who lives on the beach block and is against the project, said she already “suffers” enough from the dune in front of her home.

“The dune prevents the water from going down and it pools up behind it, creating standing, stagnant water, causing mosquitoes and algae. It’s disgusting; it’s like a sewer,” Armon said. “Sometimes you can’t even get to the beach.”

She said she doesn’t believe the additional dunes would be worth the costs to the city — monetary and loss of character — and she also doesn’t think more dunes would stop another storm as power as Hurricane Sandy.

“During Sandy the dune (in front of her home) didn’t protect anything,” Armon said. “My question is, ‘How will this dune — with all the expenses, changing the ambiance of Margate, taking away more of our beach space — improve the safety of our city? This is a tremendous question that has to be answered before this decision can be made.”

Resident Annette Schultz, who owns a beachfront home on Osborne Avenue and is part of Margate Citizens for Beach Protection, agreed with Armon.

“There is no proof those dunes will stop the power of that ocean,” Schultz said.

Resident Ed Berger said he doesn’t think that dunes are a bad thing, he just doesn’t think they will help Margate.

“An incomplete solution is not a solution for us,” Berger said. “What is it really going to accomplish if Margate is impacted by a serious storm?”

Dave Rosenblatt, of the DEP, said it is a fact that dunes reduce flooding on low-frequency storms such as Sandy.

“We are not building this for Sandy, we are building it for the next one and the next one after that.”

He said the dune the project is proposing will also include drainage.

If the city does sign onto the project, the work will likely begin something next spring or summer.

“I would hope the best-case scenario would be having your beaches pumped next summer,” Watson said.

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.