Officials in Brick Township and Mantoloking Borough are both hoping their residents sign easements allowing for an Army Corps of Engineers dune project that will shore up the oceanfront and, hopefully, prevent breaches like the one that occurred near the Mantoloking Bridge during Superstorm Sandy.
That breach, which led to a 20 foot-deep inlet forming between the ocean and the base of the county-owned bridge across Barnegat Bay, is largely blamed for the resulting floods in mainland neighborhoods such as Shore Acres and Baywood in Brick Township.
A plan to greatly widen ocean beaches and erect high dunes – similar to those in Long Beach Island, which withstood the wrath of Sandy – between Manasquan Inlet and South Seaside Park has been in place for about a decade, though it could never be put into action due to a lack of easements signed by oceanfront residents.
Those easements allow the Army Corps of Engineers and its contractor to build up dunes and renourish them every seven years after the initial project, however homeowners have been reluctant to sign them. Some homeowners say the very dunes that would protect their homes – and the homes of their neighbors – would destroy their view of the ocean and lower their home's property value. Others are afraid that the easement could be used as license in a future project to build a boardwalk or bathrooms in their backyards.
Not true, officials say.
"I can guarantee we will not be building a boardwalk in front of anyone's house," said Brick Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis. "We like what we have, and we just want to make things safer."
The same assurances have been given to Mantoloking residents, said Chris Nelson, the borough's special counsel for the Sandy cleanup effort there.
In Mantoloking, oceanfront homeowners have been given a revised easement form that contains language that states the land given up by the property owner will only be used in the federal dune replenishment project.
The width of the beach, according to Army Corps of Engineers documents, shows the beaches between Manasquan and Barnegat inlets will grow in length to the point where the current dune will end where the ocean water line begins today. In some cases, the 167-foot-wide dunes will be larger than the entire beachfront area they are replacing.
"When you stand on the new 22-foot dune that the Army Corps of Engineers is going to put in, it's going to take 350 steps to get to the sand," said Nelson. "If you're thinking of going into business, try making flip flops, because it's going to be hot out there."
In the small borough of Mantoloking alone, the federal plan calls for 2 million cubic yards of sand to be deposited on the beach and dunes.
The plan would be essentially identical for Brick Township's 3.5 miles of oceanfront.
In the Long Beach Island project, the dune project included a great amount of dune grass to hold the sand in place, and fencing to protect the dunes themselves.
While Mantoloking contends with a host of individual homeowners, Brick officials are trying to convince a number of homeowners associations to sign the easements which will allow the project to span the entire length of the town, including beaches where there is private access only.
Brick officials have been in contact with the associations and oceanfront homeowners, and have made progress, the mayor said.
"Things seem to be going very well," said Acropolis.
Nelson said federal officials have been open to replenishing beaches in one individual town if another local community does not get enough signatures to make a project worth it.
In the wake of the thrashing from Sandy endured by local beaches, plus the risk to non-oceanfront homeowners that comes from an inadequate dune system, the need for replenishment is greater than ever, and a refusal to sign an easement could be met with consequences.
"If we don't get all the easements in, we will do what's best for the community and expand legal options," said Nelson. "I sincerely hope it does not come down to that."
Acropolis has also alluded to potential legal action if homeowners do not sign the easements: a potential class action lawsuit brought by mainland homeowners whose properties could be at risk if the barrier beaches are not rebuilt.