Acquiring Easements for Beachfill Is State Priority   

By PAT JOHNSON | Apr 09, 2013
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill N.J. Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin in Harvey Cedars during a press conference with the governor on Nov. 11, 2012.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said acquiring easements for beach replenishment is a priority in the state, and the state would use legal means to get them if all else fails.        

“The governor has made it crystal clear we want those easements, we need those easements, and we will get those easements,” said Martin during a press conference Tuesday, April 9, on Superstorm Sandy-related issues. “The Army Corps wants to build a coastal protection system, and they can’t leave any gaps. We have to have all the properties.”

Martin said the DEP and the governor have been working with the mayors of coastal towns to try to convince the oceanfront owners who have not signed their easement documents that it’s in their best interest to protect their property. “If they don’t sign them over, they are exposing not only their house, but the houses of their neighbors and their community.”

At last Friday’s Long Beach Township Commission meeting, Mayor Joseph Mancini said there were 68 oceanfront holdouts in various sections of the township. He said Beach Haven was down to one. Ship Bottom, according to an informational sign on Ninth Street, had 17 as of Tuesday.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” Martin said. “They (oceanfront holdouts) are worried that they have to give up something else, that if they sign they might see a bathhouse or a parking lot or a port-a-potty on their property. These are not the facts.”

“This is not a public access issue; it’s about protection of the coastal system,” he added.

Martin said the state is starting off with reasoning but will not end there. “The governor will be making a bigger deal of this as time goes on. We will explore all our options, our legal options. We would prefer not to go down those paths, but we will to protect the lives and safety of others.”  

During the conference, DEP information officer Bob Constantine asked reporters in the field if they had talked with the holdouts and could say why people are reluctant to sign. Loss of property values due to the loss of ocean views was one suggestion. 

“When a dune is built, some people may lose their view, but at the end of the day, a lot of people lost their homes (during Sandy),” said Martin.

Earlier in the conversation, the commissioner said if Sandy had taught people anything, it was that having a robust dune system and engineered beaches protected the towns. “This has been established; a full coastal protection system is the answer. The federal government has set aside $4.5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers’ coastal protection plan, and New Jersey will get $1 billion of that to build a full coastal protection system. We are currently working with the Army Corps. This is a priority for the state, and we will do everything we need to do to make it happen.

“The governor and I are committed to the recovery and rebuilding of the coast and the state overall from Superstorm Sandy. The vast majority of my time, 90 percent of my time and the organization, is focused on how we are recovering and rebuilding. That is our priority, to bring back the residents and businesses and get them on their feet, to bring back the coastal area for the tourism season.  

“The beach towns are open for business for the summer. Most beaches are in good shape. Most boardwalks are being rebuilt. The vast majority of the waterways are free and clear of debris and ready for boating and Jet Skis. The water quality is excellent right now, and we will continue to monitor that. The Intracoastal Waterway is cleared. Barnegat Bay is open for public use, though this summer there may be smaller areas closed while we do debris removal. There is a lot of work going on.”         

Martin said now that the state has finished debris removal on land, the DEP is focused on wet debris removal from bays and tidal rivers.

For the first three months after Sandy, “the battle cry was to get the debris off the streets before it became a public health and safety crisis. A lot of mayors, county and local officials did a great job in supporting that effort.”

As a result, 8 million cubic yards of household and vegetative debris and sand were removed. “It’s a great success story and I give the mayors a lot of credit. Uur job was to coordinate that effort.”

Now with the second phase under way with waterway debris, the state has awarded contracts to three companies while retaining lead agency status. It’s a huge task with the state divided into northern, central and southern regions from Bergen County to Cape May and the Delaware River up to the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

“It’s a massive amount of effort to clean up everywhere, and everything is in there: building materials, cars, boats, docks and furniture,” Martin said. “In Mantoloking, 58 homes went into Barnegat Bay. Our goal is to have 75 percent of debris removed by June 1. Our crews are working seven days a week. Some of this will carry through to the summer season to remove floating materials and some pockets that we might have missed. The key areas are navigational channels, marinas and areas where recreational boating and fishing occur.

“Our priority is for the safety of the boating public, particularly in Barnegat Bay, Raritan Bay and Little Egg Harbor. We want to make sure that these are open for business.”

Martin asked the public to use common sense when boating and suggested anyone who is boating and sees debris should call 877-WARNDEP. Other debris in the ocean that washes up at some high tides is being cleaned up as it comes ashore.

The commissioner also addressed questions on the Federal Emergency Management Agency advisory base flood elevations, advising those who can wait before they elevate to do so.

“These are FEMA’s maps that they were working on two years prior to Sandy, and they were not completely ready, but we felt it was the best information we had based on scientific research and to get them out the public so they could rebuild to the highest standards and to provide consistency for residents doing their rebuilding.”

Martin said the ABFE maps were not “completely baked.” They are being updated, and preliminary maps are to become available in mid- to late summer. These maps may change some V-zones to A-zones, and they will become the maps to build by. Martin suggested people might want to wait to elevate their homes until the new maps come out. Waiting, he said, would also give them the chance to apply for Housing and Urban Development financial assistance grants that could provide up to $150,000 to elevate homes for low- and moderate-income households. HUD applications are expected to come out in a few weeks, he said.

The DEP has received requests from thousands of people to buy their homes, Martin said. And the state has also received $250 million for buyout programs that would be administered through the DEP Blue Acres program, enough to purchase about 1,000 Sandy-damaged properties. “We’ll be targeting neighborhoods or streets rather than buying one house here and there, and this is a ‘willing-seller’ program.”

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