By Lauren Wanko
It’s like a wall of shame posted at a local deli — the list of oceanfront homeowners who’ve refused to sign easements required for an Army Corps beach replenishment project. Deli owner Michael Nichols taped it to the counter and near the check out line. The message is clear: “The following oceanfront homeowners in Loveladies and North Beach will be welcome to shop here as soon as their beach replenishment easement has been signed. If they are your neighbor you should let them know how you feel.”
“It’s just some very, very selfish individuals who have decided for whatever personal reasons that they don’t want to sign,” Anchor Produce Market owner Nichols said.
Nichols says reaction from customers has been totally positive and it’s getting attention in the Ocean County community.
“A friend of mine told me that there was a list and I came to see who was on the list,” said North Beach resident Rita Kostopoulous. “I think it’s disgraceful that some people are so selfish.”
Attorney Kenneth Porro represents about 20 sand dune easement holdouts in New Jersey says his clients are feeling intensely pressured.
“That’s just wrong,” Porro said. “Names are posted on websites, posted as you drive in in Long Beach Island, 15 more easements, encouraging people to go to their home and knock on the door because you stood up for your constitutional rights or asked for some reasonable changes.”
Nichols pulled some of addresses from the Long Beach Township website. Mayor Joe Mancini says the community’s been fighting for signed easements for the last five years when the Army Corps began a beach replenishment project in Brant Beach. There are 480 oceanfront homeowners in Long Beach Township. Fifty-two haven’t signed easements.
“It was a transparency effort on our part. A lot of the neighbors of oceanfront owners wanted to know if their properties or their beaches were going to be replenished and wanted to know whether or not their neighbors had signed or not,” Mancini said.
Porro explains his clients’ concerns — that the easement practically gives away their beachfront properties and gives the government total control to build practically anything. So they’re holding out. Now that’s made him a target.
“In fact, one of the websites — my family has a place in Tuckerton — encourages people to come picket my home because I was representing holdouts,” Porro said.
“We’re not bullies, we’re just trying to get the replenishment done, and if this is the best way to get it done, then so be it,” Nichols said.
“In answering the attorneys, well this isn’t right, well if it wasn’t right, if it was illegal, I’m sure somebody would have sued us and we would’ve had to take them down off our website, and we haven’t,” Mancini said.
Gov. Chris Christie made his position on the easements clear at town hall meeting in March.
“We’re gonna start calling these folks out in the next few weeks if they haven’t sign their easements to let us build these dunes,” the governor said.
Anchor Produce Market has no plans to take the list down from the store. Nichols hopes homeowners will begin to sign the easements so he can cross off some addresses from that list.