MARGATE — Opponents of a plan to build dunes on the city’s beaches announced plans to hire an independent engineer as part of its efforts to answer questions about the proposed project.

Approximately 50 residents came out for a public meeting Tuesday hosted by Margate Citizens Questioning the Beach Project, a group led by some of the city’s anti-dune advocates.

MCQBP’s main organizers, former Mayor Vaughan Reale and resident Dan Gottlieb, said the group’s mission is to seek answers to remaining questions regarding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed dune project for the city. Voters will cast ballots for or against the plan in the Nov. 5 election.

MCQBP said it is planning to hire a coastal engineer to study the unique profile of Margate to determine which storm-protection options would be best for Margate — be it dunes, bulkheads or something entirely different.

“We’re not looking for what we want to hear; we’re looking for the truth,” said Reale, who lead the meeting. “The decision you’re making right now, you’re making forever.”

A city ordinance from 2001 requires a citywide referendum before approval of any dune project. If the residents vote no to the nonbinding referendum, the project is dead. But if a majority of residents vote yes, they will have to vote again in a subsequent binding referendum.

Tuesday's meeting included a presentation of the group’s initial findings, which members said they have obtained through Open Public Records Act requests and conversations with coastal geography and coastal engineering expects.

During the meeting, MCQBP also went over its list of unanswered questionsabout the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers'project and asked attendees to voice any additional concerns or questions they would like added to that list.

The group plans to pass these questions to the City Commissioners and request that they work with the Corps of Engineers to obtain answers by Oct. 13.

On Oct. 29, the group will hold another public meeting to present the responses to the questions and the findings from its coastal engineer.

Reale and Gottlieb said they formed MCQPB in August “out of frustration” after attending public meeting with representatives of the Army Corps and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which was meant to provide residents with answers, but led to more questions, they said.

Since forming, they said MCQBP has grown to include more the 100 citizens.

Reale and Gottlien said one of their group’s concerns is that the Army Corps hasn’t looked at Margate’s singular needs when proposing this project, and as a result, if the plan passes and then turns out to have been the wrong decision, it could cause a huge financial burden to taxpayers.

Under the proposed dune project, the Army Corps and DEP would fund the initial phase of the project, while all future maintenance would be paid for 65 percent by the Army Corps, 26 percent by the state and 9 percent by the city.

To draw a comparison, Reale likened Margate’s beaches to its neighbor, Ventnor, which has dunes and in 2013 has a contracted cost for beach renourishment of $7 million.

“Margate has 87,000 linear-square-feet of beach and Ventnor has 88,000 linear-square- feet of beach front,” he said. “So you can extrapolate that if the Superstorm Sandy Releif Act wasn’t passed they would be paying 9 percent, or $630,000. We’re going to be paying about $610,000, and that’s a replenishment every three years. So if this is a 40-year project, that’s 13 replenishments or that’s an excess of $7 million. The storm damage was only $1 million. This will never end.”

Also, Reale said, Margate has a different profile and a different situation than its neighbors.

“Ventnor has a boardwalk that creates an erosion problem and we don’t,” he said. “Longport has blocks where it’s beach on one side and the other is bayfront, so maybe Longport has more of an issue than Margate.”

Reale and Gottlieb said as longtime residents of the island it is their opinion that properly built, maintained and reinforced bulkheads would offer the best storm protection for Margate, specifically since the bayside suffered the most damage during Hurricane Sandy. But they said they are not experts and cannot confirm this, which is why they are hiring an expert.

“Our bulkheads are so good that we have the lowest FEMA rating in New Jersey,” Reale said.

However, Reale said, if the dune project passes, it will only protect the city’s beachfront.

“I think we all know now it will only protect the beachfront homes,” he said, “who ironically don’t want it.”

Contact Elisa Lala:

609-272-7260

Follow Elisa Lala on Twitter @ElisaLala

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.