The latest tactic by Long Beach Township officials in their long-running quarrel with some oceanfront homeowners over beach protection contains a satisfying bit of poetic justice.
Mayor Joseph Mancini told The Star-Ledger this week that oceanfront property owners who have refused to sign easements to allow beach replenishment work in front of their homes will be responsible for rebuilding their own dunes. And until those dunes are rebuilt, the homeowners will not be issued building permits to repair the damage to their houses.
An ordinance that has been on the books since 1979 - but has never been used - makes oceanfront homeowners who do not sign easements responsible for the maintenance of dunes in front of their properties. The dunes must be designed by an engineer and approved by the township.
The move makes sense. Long Beach Township, which has 12 miles of oceanfront, has been trying to move forward on a major beach replenishment project that was approved nearly 20 years ago. Much of the delay is due to property owners who don't want to give up easement rights to their strip of beach.
Mancini estimated that three-quarters of the damage from Sandy in the township was caused by an ocean surge. That's $500 million in damage that could have been prevented by the much-delayed $100 million beach project.
The value of high and wide dunes is one of the clearest lessons of Sandy. In shore town after shore town, places with well-established dunes fared well, while areas without them saw the most damage.
Beachfront owners who resist projects to broaden beaches and build up dunes endanger not just their own properties, but the properties of others in their community, too. That was clearly demonstrated in Long Beach Township communities such as Holgate, where 40 percent of oceanfront homeowners have refused to sign easements. Property owners a block from the beach returned after the storm to find debris from oceanfront garages in their homes and massive amounts of sand that they must pay to clean up.
We don't know whether Long Beach Township's move will stand up in court. (If you pause, you can hear the rapid footsteps of lawyers from all over the state rushing to represent wealthy beachfront property owners.) And court rulings on this issue have sometimes been baffling. In March, a state appeals court panel upheld a $375,000 award to a couple in nearby Harvey Cedars whose oceanfront view at their summer home was diminished by a dune built as part of a beach replenishment project.
But that dune, by the way, held Sandy at bay and is credited by local officials with saving the home.