Seaside Heights officials stand their ground in land swap furor
While awaiting documents related to the appeal of their proposed land swap with operators of Casino Pier, Seaside Heights officials reiterate their case that the plan is by the book, and in the best interests of the borough and of tourism.
The amusement center was battered during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which swept a large part of the pier into the surf as pilings weakened and gave way.
Under the agreement, the Storino family would receive 1.36 acres of municipal beach on which to build.
The borough would receive parking facilities, the historic Dr. Floyd L. Moreland Dentzel - Loof Carousel, and dormant wetland acreage in Toms River.
On August 12, the American Littoral Society and New Jersey Conservation Foundation filed an appeal, claiming that the exchange violates applicable stipulations of the Green Acres program.
Deferring comment on the appeal without having reviewed it, borough officials issued a statement through Administrator Christopher Vaz, maintaining that the application followed all relevant rules and guidelines.
"The diversion was approved by the DEP Commissioner and State House Commission, the precise entities which are charged under the laws of the State of New Jersey with interpreting the regulations at issue regarding the permissibility of diversions," officials said.
They added that the process involved two public hearings and a written-comment window during the past year. "Of the over 500 written public comments received by the DEP, only 22 opposed the project," officials said.
The carousel, dismissed by litigants as costly and dated, gets a strong defense from the borough as a "Golden Age" fixture that has been an attraction since 1932, "and is one of only four remaining wooden carousels in New Jersey."
"Of the estimated 3,000-6,000 wooden carousels that once existed in the United States, only 386 are thought to survive, with only 150 that remain in operation," officials said.
The proposal, in their view, also helps Seaside Heights as a tourism center, recovering not only from the Superstorm, but also from the Boardwalk fire nearly one year later that left Funtown Pier in ruins.
"Amusement piers and the Boardwalk have a crucial role in making Seaside Heights unique as a tourist attraction of regional importance," officials said.