If beachfront property owners don't want to grant an easement for the construction of more robust dunes on their land, they should be made to pay for the sand structures, Toms River's Council President said this week.
"If you want to have a private beach and you don't want to give an easement, then build a dune to the required height — the required dimensions as the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers are going to build them. You'll see how fast that turns around when they find what the cost is. Maybe then we'll get some cooperation," Council President George Wittmann said when the governing body met this week.
Township officials plan to appeal to state and federal representatives to create rules requiring that protective dunes are built by the property owner should they not want to grant an easement that would allow the Corps to complete the work.
As a condition of the easement, Toms River requires property owners to grant the township public access to the beach between the dunes and the Atlantic Ocean in perpetuity. According to Business Administrator Paul Shives, one easement has been granted thus far.
"My way of thinking is, right now the nation is still focused on Sandy. If we drag this thing out with easements for 2-3 years, people's memories are very short," said Councilman Mo Hill. "If we go to the Army Corps of Engineers three years from now, if all the easements take that long, we may not be a priority. Right now, I think everybody agrees, if we get these easements in a timely manner we are a priority and the Army Corps of Engineers will come here."
Property owners have been hesitant to grant the easements and have spoken before the council before to express their concerns. Some have asked for an open forum, having said that the township will not discuss the issue with them.
A few members of the council attended a discussion on beach replenishment last week. There, a professor and coastal engineering expert told them that, had the dunes been in place, Sandy's surge in the Barnegat Bay would have been reduced by three feet.
"I'm sure anyone living in the bay area, whether it's Gilford Park or the Silverton area, that made the difference between flooding and not flooding. We have to get past this parochial issue of 'it's my house, my property and I'm not going to put a dune on it,'" Wittmann said.
The council president said that the township must "push" federal and state representatives to require property owners build dunes if they do not want to grant an easement.
A resident asked if the township can increase the size of the dunes on its own, without relying on help from the federal government.
"We can certainly consider that, but in terms of dollars I'm not sure we're going to be able to do that," Wittmann said.
The enhanced dunes must be completed along a great stretch of the Jersey Shore if it is going to work, Hill said.
"This plan really needs to go from Barnegat all the way to Manasquan," he said. "You can't do it piecemeal, it's not going to give you adequate protection."
"It wouldn't make sense to do that if it's discontinuous anyway," Wittmann said. "I think the answer has to be a more comprehensive program. To build the dunes up on three streets and then stop, and then go another three streets and stop isn't going to help the situation. The water can go through the breaks."
Other shore towns are trying to get easements to allow for the Corps to come in. According to the council, the agreement would allow for 50 years of replenishment, with engineers returning every five years for beach maintenance.