Avalon homeowner pleads guilty to dune-tree cuts
AVALON — A Pennsylvania man with a borough home pleaded guilty Monday to illegally cutting down trees on the ocean dunes near his property, officials said in a statement.
David S. Dempsey, 63, of Newtown, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to damaging borough property during a hearing Monday before Judge Andrew Cafiero in Avalon Municipal Court, according to a borough news release.
Dempsey was given the maximum $2,000 fine and must pay $1,880 in restitution to the borough for costs to clean up the fallen trees, according to the release.
“This type of illegal activity is occasionally conducted by individuals who want to improve their views from private property,” said Mayor Martin Pagliughi in a statement. “Avalon maintains zero tolerance for this type of selfish behavior.”
Pagliughi said the dune system provides defense for the community from storms and is a “critical component of the borough’s natural ecosystem.”
Dempsey owns property on West 32nd Street, tax records show.
A complaint was filed by a citizen on the morning of April 17 after witnessing Dempsey illegally cutting trees, the release said. The citizen reported it to police, and Dempsey was charged May 10.
Stewart Farrell of Stockton University’s Coastal Research Center said it was likely bayberry and Japanese pine trees at that location, which is near the Beach Patrol building.
Maritime forests like those on the Avalon dunes take about 100 years to develop, Farrell said. When they hit their peak they include cherry trees, bayberry “and poison ivy galore,” he said.
What starts out as dune grass eventually is displaced by seaside goldenrod, then larger plants like bayberry and cherry. All have roots that stabilize dunes.
“There is actually soil 8 to 10 inches thick on top of the dunes,” Farrell said, the result of grasses decomposing over years. Birds and wind scatter seeds, and eventually cherry is the climax forest tree.
Areas of maritime forest still exist in places like Cape May Point, Avalon, Brigantine and Island Beach State Park, Farrell said.
Pagliughi said he was “very appreciative of the citizen who came forward with information that led to this charge and guilty plea.”
The borough has angered some residents in the past by removing Japanese pine trees from some areas of dunes after an environmental consultant found they were infested with southern pine beetle.
Brigantine City Council recently introduced a dune maintenance ordinance that would allow beachfront homeowners to hire contractors to trim certain dune vegetation.
The ordinance, if adopted, would establish a dune vegetation maintenance permit that would cost $300. It would allow hand-pruning of bayberry bushes down to 8 feet in height near the dunes, which would leave the bushes and their root structures alive.
Residents and visitors are encouraged to report illegal cutting of vegetation on public property to the Avalon Police Department at 609-967-3411.
Staff Writer Michelle Brunetti Post and writer Amanda Auble contributed to this report.