Jul 28, 2014
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State Lawmaker Among Brick's Oceanfront Easement Holdouts

Assemblyman: more information is needed before signing.

State Lawmaker Among Brick's Oceanfront Easement Holdouts
One of Brick Township's 63 oceanfront homeowners who has failed to sign an easement that would allow a dune and beach replenishment project to go forward is a New Jersey state lawmaker.

Jack McKeon, a member of the state's General Assembly from Essex County, has not signed the documentation that would allow a protective dune to be constructed in front of his oceanfront home on Sunset Lane in township's South Mantoloking section.

McKeon, a Democrat who previously served as West Orange mayor and has been a member of the Assembly since 2002, now has until Aug. 1 to sign the easement or risk having the township make good on Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis' threat to begin legal proceedings to take the slivers of land in order to allow the replenishment project to go forward.

Public records obtained by Patch showed McKeon and his wife have owned the home with another couple since 1994, on which $34,866 in property taxes were paid in 2012.

Repeated attempts to reach McKeon through his spokesperson were not successful. His office did, however, release a statement in which he said he was not against the dune project.

“All we are seeking is a basic 'meets and bounds' description, which tells us where the dune will be located on the property, before we sign off on an easement in perpetuity,” he said.

“Mayor Acropolis, who has been doing his best under extraordinary circumstances, told residents at a public meeting earlier this year that were he a beachfront property owner, he would not sign off on the easement without knowing where the dune line is,” McKeon continued. “The township has reported to residents that it cannot provide the information to us and that we should inquire with the Department of Environmental Protection. I am hopeful that we will get the information back prior to the mayor’s Aug. 1 timeline and move forward together.”

The dune line information McKeon referenced has already been published on Brick Township's website, however.

Brick officials have said the federally-funded beach and dune project would protect residents of both the township's barrier island and mainland sections from ocean breaches in future coastal storms. During Superstorm Sandy, an ocean breach in nearby Mantoloking Borough has been blamed for flooding thousands of homes on both sides of Barnegat Bay.

In order for the project to move forward, oceanfront homeowners must sign easements which would allow the dunes to be built and maintained partially on property that is privately owned. Some homeowners have refused to do so, saying the protective dunes would block their view of the ocean, or open to door to more public access to private beaches. Local officials have said expansion of beach access is not part of the replenishment plan.

There is no public access to the beach from the Ocean Heights development in which McKeon's house is located.

Acropolis, the Republican mayor of Brick, said this week that he finds it “beyond disappointing” that a state lawmaker would be among the holdouts.

“Is it any wonder that citizens are holding out when they have an elected state assemblyman standing with them, arm in arm, in the way of beach replenishment,” said Acropolis, in a statement. “I urge Assemblyman McKeon to be a leader on this issue and fight for stronger dunes, a stronger Brick Township and a stronger Jersey Shore.”

McKeon's fellow Assembly member Gregory P. McGuckin (R-Ocean), who represents Brick Township, did not address his colleague's situation in a statement issued on dune replenishment projects Thursday, but urged the passage of a bill he is sponsoring that would make it less costly for municipalities to take the easements by eminent domain. The bill would require that the increased value of a home due to the dune protection is taken into consideration and weighed against any loss of view when calculating compensation.

“We understand that beachfront owners enjoy their view of the ocean, but this is a public safety issue,” said McGuckin. “Our measure will ensure that homeowners are fairly compensated for allowing the construction of dunes on their property which will benefit entire communities. As legislators it’s our responsibility to provide for the best interests of all residents, not just a few.”

At a meeting of the Save Barnegat Bay organization Thursday night, Assemblyman David Wolfe (R-Ocean), who also represents Brick Township, said he was “disappointed” to hear that his colleague's easement had not been signed, and that he would talk to McKeon about the issue.

Acropolis said the township would likely be sending out letters to oceanfront easement holdouts today informing them of the deadline.

“Sometime in the month of August, we'll sit down with the council and find an attorney” to begin eminent domain proceedings, he said Thursday. “If it costs us a thousand dollars a piece, or $500, whatever it is, that money will be a good investment to protect the thousands of homeowners who are now going to be protected.”

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