Christie Files Eminent Domain Against “Selfish” Margate City

The state had previously offered $29,000 for the 87 properties. Margate City, which opposes dunes, says it is still willing to negotiate.

Chris Christie and Lucy - Margate

Chris Christie photo via the New Jersey Office of the Governor; Lucy the Elephant photo by Dan McQuade

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie yesterday filed an eminent domain action against 87 municipally-owned lots in Margate City.

The state has long wanted to build storm-dampening dunes in Margate. The city and many property owners oppose the deal, saying the bulkheads on its beaches protect the city adequately. When Hurricane Joaquin threatened the East Coast, Christie called Margate residents who oppose the dune project “amongst the most selfish people in the state of New Jersey.”

A federally-funded dunes project is planned for Absecon Island, which would build dunes to protect Longport, Margate and part of Ventnor. (Atlantic City is also on the island.) The administration has already received 90 percent of the 4,279 easements required to go forward with several dunes project up and down the state. But it still needs easement approval from 239 property owners, mostly in Margate.

In a statement announcing the eminent domain action, state officials again chastised residents who oppose dune building.

“As evidenced in the damage from last week’s nor’easter and from Superstorm Sandy, all of our beaches along the Jersey Shore require maximum protection from storm surges,” Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin said in the release. “The refusal of remaining holdouts along the New Jersey coastline to provide easements has forced us to seek condemnation of portions of their properties so we don’t further delay these critical Army Corps projects that will protect lives and property.”

Margate’s business administrator told the Press of Atlantic City the state offered $29,000 for all 87 properties in a letter two weeks ago. “As a non-attorney and without speaking to my attorney, I interpret that they have failed to enter into good faith negotiations as required by law,” Richard Deaney told the paper.

NBC 10 meteorologist Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz wrote a op-ed earlier this week urging Margate to build dunes. “And there will be a day when a storm like Sandy… hits,” he wrote. “The ocean will have no resistance as it rushes toward the houses. The water level will rise to a point well above the bulkheads, which will then make them useless.”

“Our position is based on our conclusion that the most cost effective way to promote public safety and preserve our beaches is not to spend tens of millions of dollars on dunes that will occupy a large portion of our beach and eventually wash out to sea,” three Margate city officials (Mayor Michael S. Becker, John F. Amodeo and Maury Blumberg) said in a statement after Christie’s earlier comments.

State officials will likely continue to harangue residents to approve the dunes, and court battles are expected.

“As the flooding and erosion caused by last week’s nor’easter reminds us, the easements we seek are vital to coastal protection efforts that benefit all New Jersey residents,” N.J. acting attorney general John J. Hoffman said in a statement. “We appreciate that many property owners – mindful of the ravages of Superstorm Sandy – have unselfishly donated easements for the greater good, but some continue to hold out. Our message is that we remain committed to acquiring all of the easements we need as expeditiously as possible.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is waiting on soliciting bids until the state has gathered all the necessary real estate.