Christie says dune easements must get OK

Gov. Christie at his 107th town hall meeting, in Long Beach Township. He also highlighted a grant program for residents and business owners hurt by Sandy that gained federal approval.
Gov. Christie at his 107th town hall meeting, in Long Beach Township. He also highlighted a grant program for residents and business owners hurt by Sandy that gained federal approval. (MEL EVANS / Associated Press)
Posted: May 02, 2013

LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP, N.J. - On this barrier island, hard-hit by Sandy six months ago, oceanfront property owners had exactly one day to finally sign over easements to allow the government to build a new dune system or face public ridicule, Gov. Christie told a packed auditorium Tuesday.

The administration intends to build a fortified dune system along New Jersey's 127-mile coastline, Christie said at his 107th town hall meeting. Stubborn homeowners spreading false information to their neighbors won't stop him, he added.

That's when he asked parents to cover their children's ears.

"It's bulls-, that's what it is. . . . I'm going to call them out on this," said Christie, insisting that state officials are not looking to build parking lots, restrooms, outdoor showers, or anything else along a stretch of beachfront in the Long Beach Island communities of Loveladies and North Beach, where about 30 property owners have for years refused to grant the easements. The deadline for signing over the permission is Wednesday.

Christie's salty comment was met with hearty applause from the 600-plus people gathered at St. Francis of Assisi Community Center in the township's Brant Beach section.

The governor needn't have resorted to tough-guy comments to rouse the packed house at this slickly orchestrated gathering. Ocean County is a Republican stronghold where members of the Grand Old Party outnumber Democrats by 3-1 in most districts.

Nearly every question asked by the public Tuesday was preceded by some accolade to the governor. One woman even noted that Christie, not herself, is her husband's favorite person.

Before taking questions from the audience, Christie highlighted a $1.83 billion grant program for residents and business owners, approved Monday by the federal government. Residents can begin applying Wednesday for grants of up to $150,000 to repair and elevate their properties. Businesses are eligible for up to $50,000 to get up and running by summer.

But when a Loveladies resident asked about dune easements - the first of about a dozen questions Christie took during Tuesday's 90-minute session - it struck a chord with an audience battered and still recovering from the largest Atlantic storm to ever strike the U.S. mainland.

"We had a lifetime of memories of families up and down the Shore washed away forever," Christie said. "We're not ever going through this again so you can sit on the first floor instead of the second floor of your home and see the ocean."

Christie said it was "no longer up for debate" whether dune systems work to save property along the Shore, citing places where extensive dunes sustained little or no damage while sections where there were no fortifications were destroyed.

The issue is flaring up in many coastal towns, including up the coast in Mantoloking, the community hardest-hit by Sandy, where every one of the 521 homes was at least damaged and more than 200 were destroyed.

About three of 129 oceanfront homeowners are refusing to sign easements, and the borough recently hired a lawyer to institute eminent domain condemnation proceedings against holdouts. The easements only cover narrow strips of sand needed for the dunes.

Mantoloking officials threatened to publicly reveal the names of holdouts - something Christie Tuesday also threatened to do on a statewide level.

On LBI, the pressure to sign the easements has mounted as the deadline approached. For several weeks, a flashing electronic sign has greeted motorists entering the island along Route 72 encouraging holdouts to sign the easements so the Army Corps of Engineers can begin the project to replenish the beaches and rebuild the dunes.

Some of the beachfront holdouts have claimed the state wants the easements for the dune work to create inroads into making the beaches more accessible to the general public. There are almost no public amenities - parking or restrooms - in either town. The lack of a public access point to the beach for a nearly seven-mile stretch has created a private but publicly funded beachfront for mansion-owning property holders, public advocacy groups have long argued.

"I will personally call them out," Christie said of the holdouts.

"I want to make it clear to you: We are building these dunes and we are building these dunes whether you consent or not. I am not going to allow selfish people to say we can't use that money to protect our state."


Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at philly.com/downashore.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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