Ocean City Moves Forward with Eminent Domain Proceedings to Get Easements for Beach Replenishment

By Lauren Wanko
NJ Today

Ocean City homeowner Tom Lochhead calls the dune system a win-win for his property and the entire community.

“I think it will increase the property value and if it doesn’t do that, it’ll help keep the flood insurance in line,” Lochhead said.

But not everyone in town agrees. About 40 homeowners are holding out on signing easements required for the Army Corps beach replenishment project. Many of those homeowners will sign an easement for more than one property. The city’s still waiting on signatures for 60 to 70 beachfront lots. Now Ocean City’s moving forward with eminent domain proceedings.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt in Ocean City that dunes equal protection,” said Ocean City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson. “I think that they are concerned that their views may be further impeded than they already are by the healthy dune system and they don’t agree that the trade-off is a valuable one.”

There will be a preliminary vote to begin eminent domain proceedings at Thursday’s city council meeting followed by a public hearing at a second meeting and another vote. Gov. Chris Christie recently signed an executive order directing the Acting Attorney General to immediately coordinate legal action to acquire oceanfront easements from about 1,100 holdouts along the coast. Ocean City has been working to secure the necessary easements since January.

“The governor’s executive order merely supported the action that we were already intending to take,” McCrosson said.

The governor’s executive order came less then 24 hours after a Harvey Cedars couple settled for $1 plus $24,000 in legal expenses after the borough used eminent domain to build a sand dune on the beach in front of their home. McCrosson says there’s a chance homeowners could see similar compensation.

“It is potentially a very nominal amount. We have had a series of appraisals done already in preparation of this process and since these lots are not build-able, they’re already located on the beach, they’re not permit-able by the state because they’re dunes. There’s very, very little value to these properties in our opinion and more importantly in the opinion of the licensed appraiser whom we’ve hired,” McCrosson said.

Ocean City has a dune system along the majority of the barrier island, but dunes along the southern end of town had already disintegrated prior to Sandy. The Army Corps project involves that section of Ocean City.

“The area in which there were no dunes is the area in which we had the most damage that came from the ocean. We had property owners shoveling sand out of their living rooms. This is critically important,” McCrosson said.

Ocean City hopes the federal beach replenishment project will be funded, designed and approved in January. That means work could begin 90 days after that.