Oceanfront property owners will be given one final notice to grant the township easement rights to allow for a federal dune project before eminent domain proceedings begin, Toms River officials said Monday.
Surveyors are mapping out the lines for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dune project that officials have said should protect Toms River and shore communities if another storm like Superstorm Sandy strikes. If holdouts don’t voluntarily grant the easement rights to allow for the project, township officials are ready to begin condemnation proceedings.
“There’s no hard-and-fast deadline,” township attorney Kenneth Fitzsimmons said in response to a resident’s question during a Township Council meeting about when the project can begin. “The deadline is really yesterday, because we’d like to see this project get underway.”
Letters are going out by certified and regular mail on Wednesday, according to Fitzsimmons, just as surveyors gather the information the township will need to offer fair compensation should it need to take the land through condemnation proceedings.
“They’re already on the ground working on that as we speak,” said township engineer Robert Chankalian, who presented an illustration mapping out which oceanfront properties have already granted easements.
The accompanying photo shows Chankalian's map; green plots have granted easements, while red represents the holdouts.
Once the metes and bounds are completed by surveyors, real estate appraisers will determine the compensation to property owners and the township’s law department will then go to court to secure the rights to the land, according to council President George Wittmann.
From then, it should take “90 to 100 days from filing of the complaint until property can be taken,” Fitzsimmons said.
If the offer isn’t accepted by the property owner, the township will pay the value into a court fund and take possession of the property, FItzsimmons said.
The property owner can then contest the township’s eminent domain claim, which could take years, but the dune restoration project could begin in the meantime, Fitzsimmons said.
Homeowners who have signed easements have had a smaller protective a dune already constructed by the township on their property, or will have one built in the coming months. Officials said they plan to move quickly to have the remaining dunes finished by mid-to-late-September on every property that has signed an easement, according to Chankalian.
But, “the problem is those would be discontinuous” and not substantial enough to protect against another storm like Sandy, Wittmann said, which is why officials want to complete the Army Corps project.
The project's design—which would include the construction of approximately 25-foot high dunes, 75 foot wide berms and 175 acres of dune grass from Manasquan to Barnegat—was completed in 2007, but has languished after some oceanfront homeowners refused to sign easements that would allow the work to be completed, and maintained in the future.
Officials have said assurances given to those who sign easements—the township will not build on their property or grant public beach use, for example—will not be afforded to property owners who go through condemnation proceedings.Toms River officials said in July that they would move forward with condemnation proceedings after a judge threw out a $375,000 jury award a Harvey Cedars couple received after a sliver of land in front of their oceanfront home was taken to for a dune replenishment project.
Easement holdouts have said that they don't want to give up rights to their land, claiming that they should be in control of what happens on their property. They have also said they don't trust that municipal structures will be built on their land, or that it won't become open to the public.