Ocean City is prepared to use eminent domain against property owners who have yet to sign easements allowing for a dune-building project south of 34th Street slated to begin this spring.

This aggressive approach comes after Gov. Chris Christie's Sept. 26 executive order directing beach towns to take the legal action necessary to acquire easements to build dunes and berms.

Business Administrator Mike Dattilo and Solicitor Dottie McCrosson met with representatives of the Attorney General's office in Trenton on Oct. 3 for guidance in drafting an ordinance authorizing acquisition of these outstanding properties through negotiations or eminent domain. The ordinance passed on first reading at City Council's Oct. 10 meeting.

"The easements will not hold up the project, and that was always our intent," Ocean City Business Administrator Dattilo said.

The ordinance will be subject to second reading at Tuesday's council meeting. If approved, it will take effect upon publication.

The Ocean City dune-building effort is part of a larger project by the state and the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a beachfill with a berm and dune along 16 miles of shoreline from Ocean City's 34th street to Townsends Inlet. This project has been in the works since the 1990s, Dattilo said.

In total, the project will affect about 200 beach lots in Ocean City, none of which can support construction, McCrosson said. Many of these lots are owned by the city. Easements have been signed by 86 private owners. Thirty-one easements are outstanding, but several owners have pledged to sign.

While some objections have been raised over the potential for diminished views or reduced beach access, McCrosson said, she believes the majority of property owners are not directly objecting to the project but simply haven't gotten to signing yet.

With the benefits of the city's previous dune projects on the north end made clear by Hurricane Sandy, property owners with whom McCrosson has spoken have been agreeable.

"Ironically, the storm may have made this process easier," she said. "It really brought home the purpose of the dunes."

McCrosson's office has begun appraising properties and drawing up paperwork.Owners will be compensated relative to the appraised value of their property, McCrosson said. Four properties have been appraised so far, each valued at about $50.

The process will be completed in December, whether through easements or eminent domain, McCrosson said.

The initial project will be entirely funded with federal dollars, Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Ed Voigt said. Replenishment projects will have to be undertaken every three years, with a small portion covered by the city.

Dattilo said he's not sure how much Ocean City will be on the hook for, but he expects it will be similar to the about 8.75 percent it contributes toward upkeep of the north end dunes.

Contact Braden Campbell:


If you go

What: Second reading of an ordinance allowing negotiations and eminent domain

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Ocean City Free Public Library, 1735 Simpson Ave.

More information: ocnj.us

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