Margate and many of its residents for too many years fought the city’s participation in federal and state efforts to restore beaches and create dunes to protect properties along the entire Jersey Shore. Along the way, opponents got the science, law and public will outside of Margate wrong, at some expense.
The lawsuit by six Margate homeowners against the project, which failed last month in federal court, seemed like it would be the last misstep in this unfortunate four-year saga. Apparently not.
The final chapter — we hope, anyway — is the misguided belief by some in Margate that state and federal officials are punishing them for their anti-dunes fight by doing the beach and dunes work during summer.
This has as much chance of being true as Margate and its residents had of prevailing in court. Understanding that, accepting the reality of shore protection efforts and moving on would at least not waste any more time and effort, and might even lead to approval of the improved beach with dunes.
We’ve tried hard to help Margate avoid the dune debacle. In August 2013, we told officials and residents “the dune debate is over” thanks to Hurricane Sandy and encouraged a no vote on a referendum to fight the dunes. More editorials followed, including “Dune rebellion unlikely to end well for Margate” in October 2015, warning they were stubbornly pushing past “numerous warnings of certain failure.”
In the end, the cost wasn’t terrible. The city spent more than $314,000, lost some face and wasted some time — but not enough to derail the Absecon Island project that other municipalities and property owners were counting on (state and federal officials made sure of that).
The legal challenges, though, apparently delayed plans for Margate’s part in the project, contributing to its scheduling during the summer this year. Some residents and officials see the timing as a result of a conspiracy between state and federal officials and the private contractor doing the work to spite Margate and its residents.
But summer beach-replenishment work is common, and other municipalities and people have embraced it or even done it themselves. In 2015, an Ocean City beach project lasted through the summer. Residents were “thrilled” with the effort to “protect the houses,” and some became friendly with the construction crews, bringing them doughnuts and beverages. That same year, Avalon’s own, self-funded project to add about 700,000 cubic yards of sand started at the beginning of the core summer season after the schools got out.
For what it’s worth, we’ve also made a mistake about the dunes to be created in Margate and the rest of Absecon Island. We’ve sometimes portrayed them as 13 feet high, a misreading of engineering plans that start measuring from a baseline beneath the beach surface. They will actually rise 5½ to 7½ feet from the beach, which we’ve stated in other stories and an editorial. So that’s good news for dune skeptics who assumed the worst.
But the best news will be when, come fall, the island beach replenishment and dunes are finished, the popular recreational sands are restored and properties are protected from the next storm. Then, once the sand has settled, the public can turn its attention to the far greater challenge of how to deal with trillions of dollars in U.S. shore property at risk with no truly effective way to protect it.