In an effort to provide as much up-to-date information as possible concerning Toms River Township’s effort to reconstruct the dunes and beach areas on the barrier island, we have prepared the following summary.
1. Publicly-owned beach areas: Construction work is being completed this week on a $1.6 million project awarded on 11/13/12 to Earle Asphalt Company as an emergency contract for the Ortley Beach Emergency Dune Replenishment Project. Under this contract, the publicly-owned beaches and dunes will be replenished to the pre-storm condition and the Township will be able to seek reimbursement from FEMA for these funds.
2. Privately-owned beach areas:
Immediately following the award of the contract for the publicly-owned beach areas on 11/13/12, the Township reached out to all private property owners, including condominium and homeowners associations that own beachfront property on the barrier island and offered to extend the contract with Earle Asphalt to cover those properties with the understanding that the Township would undertake the work and seek reimbursement from FEMA for this work. The Township believes it is critical to protect the entire beachfront and the properties on the barrier island, regardless of whethe! r they are publicly or privately owned, and recognizes that the dunes and beach area offer at least a degree of protection. In light of the fact that the Township would be expending public funds for improvement to private property, the Township is legally required to obtain an easement from the private property owners to undertake the work. A copy of the easement and the cover letter that was sent out to the property owners in November is attached. (Attachment). It is important to note that the long term goal and objective, as expressed by Governor Christie numerous times following the storm, is for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to undertake a complete beach replenishment program resulting in much wider beach areas and higher dunes, which would provide the largest degree of protection for homeowners and their properties. In order for the Township to be in a position to request that work to be done by the ACOE o n the barrier island, it will be necessary to have easements signed by! ALL property owners. Therefore, not only are the easements necessary in the short term for the immediate dune and beach replenishment project, but also, and more importantly, for the long term project by the ACOE. The easement states that the Township will be responsible for the cost of the dune and beach improvements and that the property owner is granting the Township a perpetual easement to provide public access between the dune and the Atlantic Ocean. Our Township Attorney has been speaking with and meeting with attorneys representing private property owners over the past six weeks and is attempting to answer their questions concerning the easement. The Township has attempted to provide assurances to the property owners that the easement is not intended to interfere with the rights of private beach owners to regulate their beaches. Moreover, the Township has no plans whatsoever to construct any public improvements within the easement area such a! s boardwalks or similar structures and the Township will not be seeking to undertake any activities within the easement other than the reconstruction of the dunes and beach areas; however, in order for the Township to be able to spend public funds on private property and, more importantly, to be in a position to access the ACOE funding, the language contained in the easement is necessary and cannot be changed. The Township through the Township Attorney’s office and the Township Engineer’s office sent out two follow-up letters to the private property owners as well. The response thus far has been slow. The Township remains committed to undertake the project on the privately owned beach areas if the easements are signed on a timely basis that will allow us to move forward in time to seek FEMA reimbursement. Once FEMA funding is no longer available to us, the project cannot move forward. Mayor Kelaher has offered to meet indi vidually along with his professional staff, with officers from the con! dominium and homeowners associations and their legal representatives to discuss their concerns, if that will assist them in gaining a better understanding of this project. Any association seeking a meeting should contact the Mayor’s office at 732-341-1000, extension 8255 and an appointment will be set. Since this matter involves a discussion pertaining to legal issues concerning the granting of an easement, the Mayor and his staff cannot meet with the associations without their attorney being present.