Ever since Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the Jersey shore last October, officials have planned for a new system of protective sand dunes along the entirety of the 127-mile coast.
And also since the day of the storm, some homeowners have refused to sign easements giving federal and state officials permission to do the work.
Their stated reasons have been fears that boardwalks, bathrooms, snack stands or amusement rides might be built nearby.
On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie rejected those claims in his bluntest, most off-color terms yet. At a town hall meeting on Long Beach Island, the governor said their true objection is losing their oceanfront views.
“I have no interest in taking your property,” Christie said. “I have no interest in building anything other than a dune. I don’t want to build a road, I don’t want to build a shower, I don’t want to build a hut. Any knucklehead neighbor of yours that says: ‘Oh, Christie comes in, there’s going to be showers, a bathroom, a hot dog stand…’”
Christie listed the devastation caused by the storm, including about 360,000 homes or apartments destroyed, and about $37 billion in damage.
“We are not going through that again so you can sit on the first floor rather than the second floor and see the ocean,” he said.
The issue is flaring up in many coastal towns. About three of 129 oceanfront homeowners are refusing to sign easements, and the borough recently hired a lawyer to institute eminent domain condemnation proceedings against holdouts. Under eminent domain, private property can be taken for a public purpose after compensation is paid. The easements only cover narrow strips of sand needed for the dunes.
The Republican governor noted that a bit north on Long Beach Island, homeowners in Harvey Cedars held out and were awarded as much as $360,000 in compensation by a court for the loss of their oceanfront views. Christie called the elderly couple who won the award “knuckleheads” and railed against “the money they’re trying to take.” Several other homeowners in Harvey Cedars also won monetary awards from a court.
The case is expected to be heard by New Jersey’s Supreme Court this fall, and state lawmakers are considering a law that would force judges to consider the public benefits of protective dunes when calculating the monetary value of lost ocean views.
“I want to make it very clear to you that we are building these dunes, whether you consent or not,” Christie said.