By Michael Hill
“You wanna enjoy the beach and that’s what Bay Head believes in,” said Bob Hein.
But, don’t mistake retired Army Lt. Colonel Hein’s welcome mat for any ol’ doormat. Hein is among 123 Bay Head properties here saying “no” to signing away their private beaches — that the public uses — to New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection.
The Army Corps of Engineers requires the easements to rebuild beaches with dunes and berms to make the beaches wider and higher from Point Pleasant Beach down to Seaside Park in northern Ocean County — mostly for storm protection.
When asked why he hasn’t signed it, Hein said, “I have a little doubt on what they’re actually saying. It would benefit some.”
Hein says he’s read the fine print and the beaches would become public and the cost of lifeguards and maintenance could fall on taxpayers instead of a non-for-profit collecting user fees now.
And do the landowners get any compensation for giving up their private property to the state? A DEP spokesman told NJTV News, “No, Michael. The compensation is the protection of their homes” — that echos DEP commissioner Bob Martin who says after the landowners sign away their ownership, they would still owe taxes on the land.
“If they want to go challenge that with their towns they can if they want to at the end of the day. But they still have the use of that property like everyone else has use of that property at the end of the day,” Martin said.
“So basically, I lose the two-thirds of my lot that they’re going to build the dune on,” Hein said.
Many Bay Head property owners — more than in any other coastal town — reject the project because they say Bay Head is different with its dunes and rock revetment– a wall of sand-covered boulders that line Bay Head’s shore and prevented major Sandy damage to houses behind it.
“Rock revetment will dissipate the kinetic energy of the waves where the sand will block the first wave or two and as sand tends to do, it will probably wash away,” said Hein.
Martin says Superstorm Sandy made it obvious the shore needs the protection, without any gaps. So the project needs Bay Head’s beach front. As for Bay Head’s rock revetment and property owners — not the town — paying $1,700 a linear foot to complete the revetment from the early ’60s, Martin said, “At the end of the day if they’re protected and they think they’re protected and not protect other towns, that’s selfish.” When asked if it’s helpful to use language like that when trying to negotiate with them, Martin said, “We’ve been working with them for a year and a half now.”
“All his letters say sign it or we’re going to come take it,” said Hein. “I think it’s a shame that Gov. Christie and others have characterized the homeowners as selfish homeowners.”
The state has made it clear so far that if the homeowners don’t sign the easements then the state would take their property by eminent domain.
“We’d love for people to voluntarily bring those to us, if not, we will take those,” Martin said.
“In the long run, the state can hire more lawyers and last longer than anybody. So, if they really want it, they’ll take it,” said Hein.
Property owners say they know the threat is real and some have consulted lawyers in anticipation — a fight that could delay beach rebuilding way beyond just a year.