New Jersey's contorted efforts to build Gov. Christie's sought-after dune along the coast has hit another snag as the dredging contractor stationed on Long Beach Island is making plans to remove equipment to work on another project, the state said Wednesday.
The City of Margate is apparently to blame for this, at least in part, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which holds the $128 million contract with the dredging company. Margate is fighting the state in court over the dune project, which it does not want, and has been called "selfish" by Christie.
Margate's victory in federal court in April, which invalidated a state attempt to take easements simply by administrative order, had a ripple effect along the coast, said Ed Vogt, spokesman for the Army Corps. A similar effort on Long Beach Island also went back to the drawing - or at least eminent domain - board, he said.
The failure to secure all easements along the northern part of Long Beach Island contributed to the decision by the contractor, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., to pull its equipment from the southern end, the state said in a news release that was sharply critical of the company.
"This planned action by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. is unwarranted and irresponsible," Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said in the release.
Martin urged the Army Corps to "step up to the plate" to ensure that the equipment remains on-site and the work moves forward "as quickly as possible to protect the barrier island." The release lined up U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Democratic U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, and Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini on its side.
Vogt, of the Army Corps, said the work in Holgate would still get done by the May 2016 deadline. And he said the company could not be held to any deadline for the northern end of the island without title to the easements in the hands of the State of New Jersey.
The state said only "a handful" of easements were still required for the northern end, "but they are expected to be obtained within weeks."
Vogt said easement issues are also in play in Bay Head and Point Pleasant, but, unlike on Long Beach Island, dredging contracts have not been awarded.
"We can't hold them to a date when we can't tell them when to start," Vogt said. "They have other jobs they're doing. . . . They are calculating they can come back here and still knock out the buildable parts."
The company did not respond to requests for comment. A woman who answered the phone at its Chicago headquarters said, "The PR team is out on holiday."
As for Margate, an Atlantic County judge ruled this month that the city had the right to a hearing to challenge the state's eminent domain actions against 87 of its beachfront lots and that the city had made at least an initial case that the dune plan was being arbitrarily applied to Margate. Margate prefers its bulkhead system and wants to focus resources on its back bay, where most of the flooding from Hurricane Sandy occurred.
Christie vowed after Sandy to build a dune the length of the 127-mile coastline to protect the Shore towns.