Sandy – A Reckoning

Beach Easement Holdouts

The Beachcomber
By NEAL J. ROBERTS | Aug 18, 2013
Photo by: Ryan Morrill When Sandy hit, there were numerous oceanfront property owners in Holgate who had not signed an easement to allow beachfill work on their dune. After the storm, all but one had signed by February.

The Superstorm Sandy disaster and recovery on Long Beach Island, as was chronicled for seven months by the staff of The SandPaper. Part 8.

 

Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini met with about 50 local representatives of the real estate and insurance industry on Feb. 7, urging them to lobby harder for beachfill easement holdouts to agree to sign. The issue had renewed urgency, as Mancini needed a beachfill project area ready for federal funding when he goes to Washington, D.C. to appeal for it. He warned that if LBI doesn’t get a project area ready now, it will lose its share of $160 million recently earmarked for federal work in New Jersey.

In coming weeks, all remaining holdouts in Holgate but one had signed their easement documents. The last one, though, was critically important for that section of town to get federal beach work. And then Holgate homeowner Marilyn Kaufman, who had been one of the 67 Island oceanfront clients represented by attorney Kenneth Porro, decided to switch attorneys to at last settle the matter – and sign.

Neighboring Beach Haven, meanwhile, got the number down to only four holdouts in mid February among the town’s 60 oceanfront properties. “Since Sandy, we had 13 agreements signed. We recently got one from the Sea Shell, and that was huge,” said Beach Haven Councilman Charles Maschal. Frank Little, borough engineer, said the earliest start for any beachfill work – likely combined with Holgate – is January 2014. Jeanette Lloyd, Beach Haven borough historian, said she hopes the project resets the beach entrances to an angle; “When the beach entrances are straight, that just serves as a conduit for the water to rush over,” said Lloyd, with the Island’s harsh recent history to validate her point.

Before Sandy, 43 of the 64 oceanfront property owners in Ship Bottom were still holdouts to signing a beachfill easement. After the storm, the town renewed its public campaign to get those easement agreements in hand. A lighted message board placed on 9th Street began a countdown of those still needed; by mid February the number was down to 24, but it stalled at that number. Determined holdouts Ted and Dorothy Jedziniak reiterated their only objection: the easement deed must explicitly prohibit any future public facility on the easement property. “If it would be put in writing that there would never be a boardwalk, or anything built like that, we’d sign,” Dorothy wrote to The SandPaper. Retired lawyer and Ship Bottom resident Kevin M. Rooney answered her with a commentary in the Feb. 20 SandPaper: “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!” Rooney scolded.

* * *

Spray Beach Inn, though on the beachfront, escaped a direct hit from the storm surge. The inn was open in November, and the oceanfront dining room reopened for the 2013 season on Feb. 15 at the start of Presidents’ Day Weekend – or “Valentine’s Day Weekend,” as their advertisement called it. A number of other restaurants had also recovered by then; among those advertising for Valentine’s Day dinner reservations were Buckalew’s, The Gables and Engleside Inn in Beach Haven; Blue Water Café in Haven Beach; Bisque and Greenhouse Café in Ship Bottom; ScoJo’s in Surf City; Plantation in Harvey Cedars; Kubel’s in Barnegat Light; and Dutchman’s on Cedar Bonnet Island.

Fantasy Island Amusement Park, shut down since Sandy, marked a grand-reopening of its arcade on Feb. 16 to finally resume its normal, year-round weekend schedule. And around the corner in Bay Village, Country Kettle Fudge and Country Kettle Chowda were also ready with a “grand reopening” for the holiday weekend.

On Feb. 19, Long Beach Township received heartening news: a $300,000 grant from the Robin Hood Relief Fund, which was disbursing an initial $4.9 million from the approximately $16 million raised prior to and at the “12/12/12 Concert for Sandy Relief” at Madison Square Garden. (Earlier, Little Egg Harbor Township across the bay was the first Southern Ocean County recipient, also for $300,000.) The grants were for residents still struggling to get back into their primary homes because of stalled or insufficient insurance payments. “Our fund can be used to at least take some burden off of our residents and help them get some essentials as they move through this process,” said Angela Anderson, the Long Beach Township coordinator for the fund.

* * *

Beach Haven Mayor Robert Keeler took the initiative to get some free press from the New York metro area, and WOR 710 AM gave him eight minutes of airtime to describe the Island’s recovery. “We have a little void of coverage and even our loyal vacationers in your market area don’t really know we’re open,” Keller told talk show host John Gambling on Feb. 27. “Our hotels are open back up on the ocean… And we’d like people to come down, not only in the summer but to come see us during the week or on a weekend. I think if people drove through Beach Haven right now, it would be hard for them to tell that there was a major storm.”

Several more of LBI’s restaurants or taverns joined the list of those that were advertising for St. Patrick’s Day business: Nardi’s Tavern and Grill in Haven Beach, Raimondo’s in Ship Bottom, Callahan’s in Surf City, Black Whale and Uncle Will’s in Beach Haven, Kubel’s Too in Brighton Beach.

On another business front, New Jersey Natural Gas announced an April 1 to May 31 campaign for the public to nominate a “Business of the Day” to represent businesses that recovered from storm damage and were open. The nominees would get free mention on the NJNG “Love to $ave, Love the Shore” page on Facebook.

* * *

The Robin Hood Foundation announced more aid to the area. The New York City anti-poverty campaign sent $300,000 in storm relief grants to Long Beach and Little Egg Harbor townships, plus $70,000 to the St. Francis Community Center, $25,000 to the LBI Consolidated School District and $15,000 to the Museum of N.J. Maritime History. Island officials were disbursing individual grants of $750 to $2,500 to year-round Island residents of limited means, especially seniors and families with school-age children. Soon thereafter, Beach Haven was granted $200,000 and Ship Bottom $100,000 for their low- or moderate-income residents still hurting. “It could go toward home repairs, but it could also be used for people having trouble paying rent, utility bills, medical bills … it could be for numerous situations,” said Lauren Rohrer, Beach Haven deputy clerk.

More home-grown aid came from the Rotary Club of Long Beach Island, when on Feb. 28 club president Rob Roth presented a $25,000 check to the St. Francis Community Center. The money came from an “Open Your Heart for Sandy Victims” fundraiser, the first of several the club plans this year.

Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini and Commissioner Joseph Lattanzi traveled to Washington, D.C. on Feb. 28 to lobby the N.J. congressional delegation for beachfill funds and for relief from FEMA’s new flood zone maps, which carry costly requirements for Islanders trying to rebuild under a dark cloud of dramatic cost increases for flood insurance. “The maps put 16,000 homes in a V-zone, something that could be nearly as devastating to those homeowners as the storm itself,” stated a township press release following the trip. Mancini also traveled to Staten Island with that message for a Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee.

March arrived with news that Marilyn Kaufman, the last beachfill easement holdout in Holgate, had agreed to sign the easement. “We’re glad they signed, and let’s move on. Holgate’s delivered,” Mancini announced at the March 1 township commission meeting. He said it now remains for easement holdouts in other township sections to sign while there is still time for the township to get a piece of the $2.5 billion in congressional Sandy relief now earmarked for beachfill projects. “We need all easements ASAP … we don’t have much time left,” said Mancini, fearing the federal money could be spent elsewhere if LBI isn’t ready. New beachfill work can’t proceed unless all oceanfront property owners sign the documents. Lattanzi, in an open letter to The SandPaper, added a reminder for the holdouts: “First, if you do not sign the easement, you are responsible for maintaining the dune in front of your house, and we have passed local ordinances making it quite clear this is your responsibility.”

On March 12, Gov. Christie announced a plan to spend the first half of a federal $1.83 billion Sandy relief package for New Jersey. One important piece: low- and moderate-income residents will be eligible for bigger grants, up to $150,000, to raise their storm-damaged homes. “This plan puts into motion the specific actions we’ve been designing to get relief out as quickly as possible to our Sandy-impacted homeowners and businesses – to reconstruct, rehabilitate and elevate homes, and to get over hurdles for our small businesses to get up and running again,” the governor stated on March 12. This aid is intended to fill gaps where private insurance, FEMA grants, Small Business Administration loans or other sources have failed to resolve the hardship for some storm victims. Pending federal approval of New Jersey’s relief plan, the governor said it is estimated to address unmet need for an estimated 20,000 homeowners, 5,000 renters and 10,000 businesses.

* * *

Lorry’s Island End Motel in Beach Haven Inlet, which witnessed the worst storm surge on the Island, was nearly finished a full restoration. Its six rooms on the second floor had been open for guests since February. “Beautiful Beach Haven Inlet/Holgate is made up of some really great people and we are still here, and yes, we will be ready for the 2013 season,” owner Bill Hutson remarked in mid-March, expressing thanks that the motel had been built strong enough to withstand Sandy.

Jolly Roger Motel in Holgate was also recovering. Judy Lobrutto, who runs the business that was purchased by her parents in 1978, was on pace to have everything shipshape by Memorial Day. The 12 rooms did not sustain flood damage, but there was much other work necessary on the property. “Life goes on. We’re just hustling,” she said in early May.

“We Are LBI” was the title of a promotional video and website launched March 18 by the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce. “In addition to creating a dedicated website, wearelbi.com, a marketing campaign has been launched to bring well-deserved focus and revamped energy to ‘shop and support local,’ a mantra that has always encompassed the area,” said Lori Pepenella, destination marketing director for the chamber. A new chamber officer, Jetty Life company co-owner Jeremy DeFilippis, added, “It became clear that there was some negative perspective on the chamber’s post-Sandy efforts within our community, so I set out to improve that by forming a marketing committee and rolling out a plan.”

* * *

Winter came to a close with announcement by the state Department of Environmental Protection that three companies were hired to begin restoration of LBI waterways. Long Beach Island extended across three of the state’s 11 zones – South Barnegat Bay, Little Egg Harbor Zone A and Little Egg Harbor Zone B – delineated for storm debris removal. The state expected 75 percent of the job could be finished by June 1; the work would continue through summer and fall until completed. Boaters, of course, are advised this season to stay on full alert for any hazardous obstructions submerged in the channels.

With the arrival of spring, Oskar Huber Furniture and Design announced the grand reopening of the Ship Bottom Circle landmark business that had been closed for renovation since its “flood sale” in November. In Peahala Park, the Acme Supermarket announced it would open its doors March 22: “Our team has worked diligently to repair the damage and restore operation after Hurricane Sandy. We look forward to serving the community again.” B&B South announced it was “restored and better than ever” at its Beach Haven clothing and gifts location beginning March 28, as well as in Ship Bottom. Shore Good Donuts in Ship Bottom, which gained The Weather Channel airtime of inside surveillance camera video of Sandy’s rising flood, reopened March 23 to give out free coffee and doughnuts – including its new buttercrunch item, the Hurricane Sandy. “Sandy’s in our memories forever. She’s a mainstay now,” said shop co-owner Todd Hunt.

The DiPietro family, which had labored full-speed ahead after the storm to restore their Stefano’s California Grill in Beach Haven Terrace by Nov. 10, now had their Dockside Diner in Spray Beach ready for business Easter weekend. Little Bite of Italy in Surf City opened its season March 29. On Monday, April 1 – April Fool’s Day – that cartoon chicken surfer dude’s place, The Chicken or the Egg, drew a reopening day crowd that even extended to a waiting line outside as the previously water-logged restaurant joined other restored Beach Haven addresses now ready for business. Roberto’s Dolce Vita in Beach Haven Terrace joined the triumphant return on April 5; Yellowfin in Surf City reopened for weekend dining beginning April 12, as did Ship Bottom Shellfish: “We are happy as a clam to be back!” the combo restaurant and fresh seafood market announced at the start of its 32nd season. By count of the LBI Business Alliance (njlbi.com), there were 213 businesses now open.

Next Week: LBI Is Alive!

Read the series at thesandpaper.net under the Columns tab.

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