Finally, Dunes for the Jersey Shore

Gov. Christie's eminent domain order was the right decision. It shouldn't have taken this long.


That was my initial response to the news that officials in Ocean City and Mantoloking have started eminent domain proceedings against ocean-front homeowners who have refused to turn over strips of land in front of their homes so dunes could be built there.

Finally, their flimsy excuse of “but my home value!” has been pushed aside courtesy of an executive order from Gov. Christie for the sake of the safety of the entire towns they claim to love.

This has been far too long coming. We’re almost at the one-year anniversary of Sandy, and dunes are a no brainer.

When done right, dunes are the first and strongest line of defense a Jersey Shore community has against coastal storms and flooding. (I wrote about how to do that right in National Geographic, focusing on one small community that was saved by dunes while a roller coaster dropped into the ocean just north of town). Dunes are also like savings accounts of sand. When a storm rips through, dunes give sand away, but that’s better than streets or sidewalks or homes, and they’re easy to build right back up.

But about 1,000 selfish owners have said no way—even after Sandy showed that towns with properly built dunes fared far better during the storm.

This battle has been going on a long time, even before Sandy. The Harvey Cedars couple who gave up this September and accepted $1 for their land had filed their first law suit back in 2008.

I have not been able to wrap my mind around the notion that the good of one person’s house is better than the safety of the community. We know climate change is affecting our ocean levels and our weather. I’m not ready to call for retreat, and I don’t know of many Jersey Shore owners and lovers who are either. You’d think that people with homes on the front line would want as much protection as they could get against those changes—especially when someone else would pay for it.

All 521 homes or buildings in Mantoloking were damaged by Sandy. Why anyone in that town would want to stop efforts to protect the town are beyond me. But it’s not up to me or them to decide now. This fight is over, for the good of the Jersey Shore.