MARGATE — Residents on Tuesday told the Board of Commissioners they want the Army Corps of Engineers off their beach by spring, and city officials said they should be gone by May, after which the city would be responsible for its new beach drainage system.
Hurricanes off the Jersey coast have delayed the Absecon Island beach and dune project and the dredge was sent to safe harbor, an Army Corps official said last week.
Spokesman Stephen Rochette was unavailable for comment because he has been deployed to Florida in response to Hurricane Jose. However, Margate City Administrator Richard Deaney said he believes the dredge could be back in operation by the weekend.
Quincy Avenue resident John Gottlieb said equipment sitting on the top of the dune has been nonoperational for about three weeks.
“My worry is they are not going to finish the project. We either have to let them finish the project so we don’t go into next year or stop the project and not have it done at all,” he said. “We can’t go to next year. It’s cost the city and individuals an enormous amount of money.”
Residents said they wanted the entire project, including installation of outfall pipes that allow storm water to flow to the beach, finished by May, so they do not have to endure another summer without access to their beach.
“There are things going on behind the scenes that we can’t announce publicly just yet,” Mayor Michael Becker said, assuring residents the project has to be done by May.
The Army Corps has agreed to design, construct and fund an alternative beach drainage system at the government’s expense. In return, Margate will withdraw its lawsuit against the state and federal government.
Becker said the project includes installing a lateral pipe across the entirety of Margate’s beach bulkhead, with five 48-inch outfall pipes that will drain storm water to the ocean. A precast concrete inlet will collect storm water at existing street-end scuppers. The outfalls will be located at Brunswick, Granville, Lancaster and Vendome avenues, in addition to the one that already exists at Monroe Avenue. They will be completely covered by the dune and berm system, he said.
Realtor Larry Campbell was optimistic that the real estate market would remain strong in Margate as it has for several years, despite a dip in sales and rentals this summer as a result of the dune project.
“2017 is pretty much over, but not 2018. We need to get some kind of negotiated off-the-beach-day that’s legally binding,” he said.
Lynn Gottlieb, who said she depends on rentals to finance her home and pay her taxes, said the city should be vigilant in pressing for the project’s completion.
“Use every bit of leverage you have to get them off the beach," she said.
She also asked the commissioners to hold out until they make the drainage system as aesthetically pleasing as possible.
Daniel Gottlieb, executive director of Margate Citizens Questioning the Beach Project, asked whether the city would be signing a “hold harmless” agreement with the state or Army Corps in exchange for getting a drainage system installed.
“I have a sneaking suspicion, and I would hate to be right, that the other side has grave concerns about the project, and I don’t know what they are. If they are asking you to hold them harmless for an extended period of time, that concerns me,” he said.
Commissioner John Amodeo said no such proposal has been discussed.
“We will have to accept whatever they put on the beach for operations and maintenance," he said. "There is a cost associated with it after installation …but we will now be able to schedule maintenance in the offseason.”
Becker said the city would sign a “modified” state aid agreement and that “everyone in Margate will be happy with it.”
Solicitor John Scott Abbott said Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez has maintained oversight of the case and he will be getting periodic reports about the progress being made, but “once the drainage system is built, it becomes Margate’s responsibility.”
“Ten years from now, we can’t call up the Army Corps and say come down and fix one of your broken pipes. However, we always have the option to go back to court,” he said.
Deaney said the state and Army Corps are finally doing what they should have done five years ago, and that the city should give them the opportunity to allow it to work. He said city engineers believe the system will work.
Barclay Avenue resident Michael Fishbein said the city should require the Army Corps to “stand by whatever they do.”
“What if the new system doesn’t work? If you do require they stand behind it in some enforceable fashion, at least you could go back to court to get the Army Corps to come back and fix this,” he said.
Following a negotiation session Wednesday morning, Deaney said the commission should approve a drainage agreement within weeks.
“It will be a formal partnership between the state and us to take care of the system,” Deaney said. “We will have day-to-day responsibility for maintaining the system, which may be no harder than we have had digging trenches. We will reach a general understanding, and it will be put into writing.”
Deaney said, however, that at no time has the city ever discussed a financial arrangement on beach replenishment.
“We won’t sign anything regarding replenishment,” he said.