Ship Bottom Holdout’s Last Letter Could Be Proverbial Last Straw
For many residents of LBI who are angry with beachfront owners who continue to endanger our community by failing to sign the beach replenishment easement, I suspect that Dorothy Jedziniak’s letter to the editor last week (“Don’t Blame Us”) will serve as the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Her letter makes abundantly clear that despite the fact she has spearheaded opposition to beach replenishment for the past six years, Mrs. Jedziniak somehow still doesn’t know the colossal, night-and-day difference between an easement and the process of eminent domain. In light of all the suffering so many have had to endure in these past three months, due in part to the stand beachfront owners like her have taken, Mrs. Jedziniak’s ignorance of the simple, straightforward language of this run-of-the-mill easement is appalling, to say the least. She who has fought so hard against the easement doesn’t even know what the document says! The empress truly has no clothes.
The letter initially makes the ridiculous claim that the beach replenishment easement “takes away our property rights forever and gives the politicians the right to assign our land for any use at all.” Next, Mrs. Jedziniak inflames the situation further by falsely implying that the easement puts her at risk of having her property “taken and possibly used for commercial development.” Finally, she manages to ratchet up the know-nothing rhetoric even further when she describes the easement as “taking ownership of our land.”
Each one of these statements is absolutely false and is completely contradicted by the clear language of the easement. Mrs. Jedziniak is clearly talking about eminent domain, not the beach replenishment easement.
The letter is Kafkaesque, to be sure. But it is certainly not funny. It is shocking and outrageous that someone who has led the charge against the easement either 1) has not read the easement and has, instead, foolishly relied upon someone else’s mischaracterization of it, or 2) has read the easement, but is not up to the task of understanding this routine legal document that does no more to ownership rights than does the easement we freely give to the gas company to come into our front yards to maintain the gas lines to our homes.
The idea that Mrs. Jedziniak is publicly stating that the easement “takes” land and permits the construction of commercial property on the dunes is essentially no different than someone shouting at the top of their lungs in the public square that the Earth is flat. We all know the shouter is dead wrong, but the disconnect with reality is so utterly blatant and fundamental that we do not know where or how to begin to correct her.
As any competent lawyer will advise, and as all who have bothered to read the easement know, the easement does not change ownership of the land. Rather, it simply grants your town the right to come onto the land to perform dune replenishment activities. Likewise, the easement does not entitle your town to assign the land to anyone. Instead, it merely entitles your town to assign its rights and duties to maintain the dunes under the easement – in other words, it entitles the town to use the Army Corps of Engineers to get the job done.
Finally, the easement does not grant anyone the right to use the land for “any purpose at all,” much less for commercial development. The easement clearly states what beach replenishment-related activities may be performed on the land and, as a simple matter of textbook property law, no other activities are legally permitted beyond those expressly set forth in the document.
This is not rocket science. Read the words that are on the page or hire an honest lawyer to read it for you! Feelings and fears about government are simply not relevant to the task of figuring out what the easement says and does not say. All the paranoia in the world does not change the actual words of the easement that are available for all to read. Only the actual words of the easement are relevant to that exercise, and those words are not the words Mrs. Jedziniak somehow manages to see when she reads the document. As Sen. Daniel Partrick Moynihan famously said, we are all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own set of facts.
So, the questions at hand pretty much suggest themselves. Why on earth is Mrs. Jedziniak so wrong about the clear terms of this routine legal document? How could Mrs. Jedziniak lead the charge against the easement but not know what it says? Why is she conflating the easement with issues that pertain to eminent domain? Why is she publicly repeating all of this paranoid mumbo jumbo about commercial development on the dunes?
Well, I would suggest that the answer to these questions is to be found within a story that Mrs. Jedziniak leaves out of her letter. Mrs. Jedziniak’s letter does not mention that, for several years, the Jedziniaks and the Ship Bottom Borough Council have been engaged in an all-out war. This battle is nothing short of legendary here in Ship Bottom, and you can see the spectacle for yourself at any council meeting in the future.
The level of animosity is alarming sometimes, humorous often, and self-defeating always. Everything the council proposes is consistently opposed by the Jedziniaks with a dramatic flourish. It is a highly personal battle, and it rarely seems to have any connection whatsoever to the merits of the municipal issues at hand. In short, it’s a war of attrition, and it appears to have supplied Mrs. Jedziniak with an all-consuming raison d’etre.
So, there we have it. Mrs. Jedziniak’s seemingly inexplicable misunderstanding of a routine legal document is actually quite easily explained, after all. Mrs. Jedziniak has been blinded by anger and revenge over a long list of personal slights and unrelated issues. Mrs. Jedziniak may very well harbor a general distrust for government, as she discloses in the letter, but her admonition to readers not to trust the government on the issue of the easement comes from a very particular and highly personal motive that she failed to disclose to her readers.
She has been so blinded to reason by her death-struggle crusade against council members that she cannot understand simple English. She is so utterly focused on the task of vindicating her own considerable ego by frustrating her sworn enemies – people who continue to try their best to protect the Island, despite the shenanigans of irresponsible beachfront owners like Dorothy Jedziniak – that she has imagined a document that does not exist and has closed her mind to the harm she will cause by leaving our community open to the ravages of the next storm that will surely come our way.
Wonderful, Mrs. Jedziniak! Bravo! Why would we ever trust our neighbors who take the time and effort to contribute to the public good by serving in our local governments when we can put our trust in you and your unique legal construction theories? Be careful not to push your novel theories too close to the edge, though. You may end up without any land under foot at all. After all, the world is flat if I say it is, isn’t it?
Kevin M. Rooney of Ship Bottom spent 25 years as a litigation partner in Washington, D.C. law firms and was general counsel to a Fortune 500 multinational corporation.