Toms River Taking Off the Gloves Against Easement Holdouts
The remaining Toms River beachfront homeowners refusing to sign access easements tied to the Army Corps dune project land in the crosshairs of township officials. In the vortex is John McDonough, the owner of three extensive tracts housing hundreds of renters on the northern barrier island.
As an outgrowth of the destruction left behind by Superstorm Sandy, engineers of th Corps says they're ready to begin a beach-restoration project that will create an 11-mile fortified dune from Manasquan Inlet to Barnegat Inlet.
It requires compliance by land owners to allow engineers and crews to return to their properties for recurring maintenance. Refusal to sign easements means exclusion from the project.
McDonough owns the Ocean Beach I, II and III enclaves. In a recent interview with Townsquare Media, reiterated his firm stance against a policy that he equates to a government takeover. Moreover, say sources, other property owners claim to be waiting to see his next moves before they decide their directions.
"Their names will be released next, but right now we're focusing on the one person who has been extremely vocal," says Kelaher. Townsquare Media has spoken with homeowners who desperately want the forms filed but have no way to achieve it.
Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher warns that any section left unfortified will be where the floodwaters will move in the next superstorm. It's a sentiment echoed by Governor Christie, as well as by homeowner associations on his own land powerless to override him.
Several calls to John McDonough went unreturned.
"If homeowner associations had signed these same easements years ago like they were asked, this would never have happened," Kelaher fumes. "I wasn't the mayor then, but this time around, we're not backing down. We're not taking 'No' for an answer. The future of our residents depends upon the new dune system being put in place."
McDonough also contends that he has, for many years, maintained dunes without the government's help or intrusion. Toms River Township Attorney Ken Fitzsimmons disagrees with the idea that they're anywhere near sufficient.
"The comparison can be made that if the Army Corp's dune system is the size of a basketball, McDonough's 'dunes' will be less than the size of a ping pong ball," says Fitzsimmons. "It's just not going to be adequate enough to protect homes from further destruction."
At the most recent public meeting of the Township Council, Kelaher confidently announced that officials had achieved nearly full agreement among landowners impacted by the easement matter. At this point, some of the swagger has been replaced by saber-rattling.
"We're done playing nice and politely asking for these signatures," Kelaher says. "Today, we will begin publicly calling out these homeowners and today we're starting with the biggest offender, John McDonough."
The mayor says the "paranoia" places all surrounding residents at risk, including those on the mainland bayfront who endured the massive surge.
He also cites FEMA's assurances that enhanced beaches and dunes would result in lower long-term flood insurance rates.