Is Eminent Domain a Possibility at Jersey Shore [AUDIO]
Deadlines have passed to get signed easements for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach protection project, but the state continues to take a diplomatic approach in getting property owners to cooperate.
State and local officials said they hope to clear up misunderstandings concerning the easements and the type of work that the Army Corps is looking to do on the beaches.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese said they have partnered with towns to get the word out about the projects. He said they are hoping to assure property owners by meeting with them that they don't want to take their land.
"The goal is to build a protective system through out the state. It could be for dunes, it could be for maybe sea walls or revetment, whatever is needed to help protect the shoreline the Army Corp needs to have access to those properties," said Ragonese.
He added, "All we're looking to do is make sure that dunes can be built and that protections can be made to the shoreline, so that it protects the people who have beach front homes and also the people who live behind them and the store owners down the street."
Following a recent NJ Supreme Court ruling overturning the award given to a Harvey Cedars couple in an eminent domain dune building case, Brick Township Officials set an Aug. 1 deadline to get signed easements.
Township Administrator Scott Pezarras said since then, they've received 15 signed easements and they're continuing efforts to meet with homeowner's associations to answer specific questions about the Army Corps project.
"There seems to be a lot of angst with regard to what they're actually taking in the easements and we're just out there trying to quell the anxiety over the taking of property. We're not looking to take property, we're actually looking to protect property," said Pezarras.
However, Pezarras admited the signed easements they've received so far are not nearly enough, but he wasn't talking about eminent domain either. When asked, Pezarras indicated that they were pleased with the progress they're seeing through their ongoing efforts to reach out to property owners. When pressed, he said they may consider using eminent domain to gain access but only as a last resort.
Some Brick residents indicated they were unwilling to sign easements unless they could get the exact amount of land needed for the dune and beach replenishment project.
"What we have is an established line that was overlaid onto to the tax maps with their properties indicated and the location of their structures indicated that will give them an idea of where that easement is going to go as a maximum," said Pezarras.
The Army Corps will have the exact figure when engineers conduct a Metes and Bounds assessment.
Ragonese says "what we're doing at this point is that we are working to try to convince those skeptics who are living along the shore about the projects, about the need for them, the intent and we would like to see this resolved in a more civil, amicable approach rather than through threats and deadlines."
He said the Army Corp is expected to begin the storm protection project in early 2014 and they will need those signed easements by then.