LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP — Township officials modified a 31-year-old ordinance Friday that would require some beachfront homeowners to pay for sand and dune maintenance in front of their homes.
But before the Board of Commissioners had even voted Friday, a group of oceanfront homeowners had put the township on notice that they intended to fight the revised law in court.
And so began the latest skirmish between homeowners and Long Beach Island municipalities over property owners’ refusal to sign needed easements to make way for a massive federal beach project.
Township Mayor Joseph Mancini said the revised ordinance was a “last resort” to get beachfront homeowners to either sign beach easements or accept the responsibility of funding their own beach maintenance.
What the cost to homeowners would be is unclear, but in November, Beach Haven officials paid for 70 dump trucks of sand to shore up one block of beach damaged in the November northeaster. The sand cost $9.69 per ton and the borough spent $15,000 on the emergency measure. Officials estimated it would take 375,000 tons of sand to restore the dunes — more than $3.6 million at $9.69 per ton.
“We do not want to go through the eminent domain process because it’s too expensive and it comes back on the taxpayers. We just need to get sand on the beach,” Mancini said.
“I’m not trying to be mean-spirited and we’re not extorting anyone,” Mancini said of the ordinance that many in the audience spoke strongly against during Friday’s meeting. “The intent is not to coerce anyone into signing their easement.”
But homeowners must sign beach easements or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection won’t put sand in front of their homes. The issue of the easements, which grant the agencies the right to work there, has slowed the project since it started in 2006.
Friday’s adoption revised a 1979 law that already required oceanfront homeowners to maintain and replenish the dunes in front of their homes.
The ordinance has not been enforced, but could have been at any time, Mancini said.
Before the meeting Friday, attorney Kenneth Porro, who represents 67 oceanfront homeowners across Long Beach Island, filed a tort claim objecting to the ordinance.
Oceanfront homeowners who attended Friday’s meeting accused the township of coercion and intimidation.
Mary Jean Potenzone, 59, owns an oceanfront home on East Delaware Avenue. Potenzone is one of many homeowners who have refused to sign easements that grant access to the Army Corps and state DEP to complete the beachfill project.
She said the ordinance is a threat and the township’s latest attempt to make homeowners sign easements.
Robert Cochran, who lives year-round at his oceanfront home on 84th Street, agreed: “It’s harassment. You’re twisting my arm, and it’s not voluntary any more. You’re saying if I sign this easement, then this ordinance does not apply to me. I’m being coerced into signing this easement,” he said.
The ordinance would allow the township to distribute notices of “restoration and repair” to homeowners, who will then be required to make an application to the township Building Department with a description and name of contractor who will complete the work. Homeowners will also be responsible for obtaining all permits that may be required by federal and state law.
If homeowners refuse to do the work within 15 days, the township will do it and then bill them. The charge for the township to do the work will become a lien against the property, the ordinance states.
Mancini said that about 40 percent, or 200, of the township’s 489 oceanfront property owners have signed their easements. Those homeowners will not be required to maintain the dunes in front of their home, he said.
There is precedent nearby. Surf City’s beach-replenishment project was completed in 2007, but not before the borough took the same measure Long Beach Township is currently taking, by requiring oceanfront property owners to pay for beach repairs on their own land.
Other municipalities on Long Beach Island have taken different routes.
In July 2008, Harvey Cedars sought remaining easements through the eminent-domain process and brought a multimillion-dollar beachfill project to the borough. The project began in November.
But last month, as the sand was being pumped onto Harvey Cedars’ beaches, a panel of condemnation commissioners awarded Martin Flumenbaum and Ruth Hochberger, owners of an East 83rd Street home, $480,000 as compensation for an easement needed for their beach-replenishment project. The panel determined that was fair compensation for the loss of property value when a 22-foot dune is built between their home and the ocean. The borough had appraised the value of the easements at just $300. Harvey Cedars Mayor Jonathan Oldham said the borough is challenging the award.
Mancini and the Board of Commissioners have considered pursuing eminent domain, but the expense is a drawback.
Only a few residents rose to support the ordinance.
“I wish everyone would stop thinking just about themselves and think about other people and not be so worried about losing a little piece of land,” said Dick Jefferies, of Surf City, who owns a business in the Beach Haven Terrace section of the township.
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