Christie critical of dune opponents

Discarded Christmas trees are dumped on the sand in Bradley Beach, N.J., as part of a project to rebuild dunes.
Discarded Christmas trees are dumped on the sand in Bradley Beach, N.J., as part of a project to rebuild dunes. (WAYNE PARRY / Associated Press)
Posted: January 16, 2013

BRADLEY BEACH, N.J. - This Shore town came through Sandy better than many of its neighbors. A major reason: It had protective sand dunes in place.

On Monday, Gov. Christie used a dune-reconstruction project as a backdrop for harsh criticism of oceanfront property owners who have blocked dune projects elsewhere on grounds that the work would interfere with their oceanfront views.

"That's extremely selfish and shortsighted," Christie said. "We're looking at ways we can place requirements, legally, to make sure these dune systems are built."

The governor's comments came as tourism officials arrived in Trenton to plead for an infusion of emergency funds to market the Shore, and Rutgers University economists predicted a post-Sandy construction boomlet would have a positive effect on the state economy.

Diane Wieland of the Cape May County Department of Tourism and others urged an Assembly panel to support a bill that would appropriate $20 million to market the Shore before the summer.

Shore tourism, which employs thousands of residents and on which many towns' budgets are based, may depend on the emergency funds to get out the message that the entire coastline is not "gone," Wieland said.

Christie, meanwhile, focused on rebuilding.

"What I care most about is that an aggressive dune system is built and maintained," he said. "I hope that a group of homeowners doesn't place the lives of an entire town at risk because they want a little bit better of a view."

The debate has been under way for years, but took on urgency after Sandy wrecked parts of the Shore - particularly those without dune systems.

On Long Beach Island, a couple in Harvey Cedars sued over dune work in front of their $1.7 million house, arguing that it reduced their property value by harming the oceanfront view. A court awarded them $375,000, the borough appealed, and the case is headed to the state Supreme Court.

Homeowners associations in Toms River also have balked at allowing the township to carry out a dune project, saying they own the beach and will take care of it themselves. Only one of 30 private beach ownership groups has signed an easement granting Toms River the right to carry out dune work.

John Weber, head of the Surfrider Foundation, said dunes should be part of any beach replenishment project carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers. He also encouraged local towns to build their own dune systems, as Bradley Beach did.

Meanwhile, economists at Rutgers have estimated that Sandy will have a net positive effect on New Jersey's economy assuming the state pulls in at least $25 billion for recovery and reconstruction.

A report out Monday from the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy concluded that the state economy should perform modestly better through 2015 than it would have if the storm hadn't hit.

But that forecast is "critically dependent" on expenditure of at least $25 billion in private and public restoration funds, the Rutgers report warned. Factors including changes in federal fiscal policy also could throw off the projection, it said.

Even if the state benefits economically in the long term, the report noted that the "damages, both human and economic, are enormous and real."

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