MARGATE - A week after calling the city "selfish" for refusing to give up land needed for the state's dunes project, Gov. Christie on Thursday moved to give Margate no choice.
The state first offered Margate $29,000 for nine beachfront easements, based on an appraisal, the city said. When that was rejected, the Christie administration filed an eminent domain action to secure land they need to proceed with an island-wide dunes project Margate voters have repeatedly said they want no part of.
The state had been threatening to file eminent domain against Margate since January, when a federal judge told the state that would be the proper way to get control of the easements. The state had earlier attempted to take the land through an administrative order, which prompted Margate to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
Rich Deaney, the business adminstrator in Margate, said the city had requested to negotiate the terms of the shore protection project in response to the $29,000 offer, but that the state had gone ahead and filed eminent domain.
"They're supposed to negotiate with us," Deaney said. "We sent them a letter saying we'd like to negotiate with them. They ignored it."
Deaney said the city was not against shore protection, but wanted a chance to negotiate the technicalities of how that is done. Residents voted in two referendums to oppose dunes on their beaches, arguing that they will be a costly, unsightly and ineffective way of protecting the town. Most of the flooding issues from past storms have been from the back bay. The town has a bulkhead system on the beach it says is sufficient.
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers had to abort the Absecon Island protection project last winter after Margate fought the state to essentially a stalemate in federal court. Longport voluntarily gave the state access to its easements following Hurricane Sandy, after opposing the dunes for years.
The release, issued directly from the Governor's office, tallies the amount of property at 87 lots owned by Margate, saying the eminent domain filing "builds upon the ongoing work the Christie Administration has been undertaking to secure easements necessary to construct these vital coastal protection projects."
Of 4,279 easements, 366 still are outstanding, owned by 239 property owners. Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said in the release that the state was "very disappointed" that officials in Margate forced the state to go to court to protect its citizens and promised to "continue to be very aggressive in using eminent domain as a tool to obtain the easements."
There are still ten easements in Margate owned privately that are going through the appraisal process, the state said.
Deaney, the Margate administrator, said the city would oppose the state's actions in court.