Toms River has replaced the sand dunes on publicly owned oceanfront property in Ortley Beach that were washed away during Hurricane Sandy. The township is willing to extend the same courtesy to the owners of private beachfronts, too, but on one condition. And it’s not a small one.
According to township solicitor Ken Fitzsimmons, the township is legally prohibited from spending taxpayer funds to replenish dunes on private property destroyed by Sandy. That’s no longer a problem should the property owners grant the township an easement. As a condition of the easement, however, Toms River is requiring property owners to grant the township public access to the beach between the dunes and the Atlantic Ocean in perpetuity.
Suddenly, the private in private beaches no longer applies.
Fitzsimmons said letters informing property owners of the dune replenishment bargain were mailed to about 30 different entities, among them residential property owners, business owners, and condo associations located along the ocean on Ortley Beach. So far, only two property owners have agreed to the township’s terms, one officially.
In all, Fitzsimmons said he’s been in contact with “eight or nine” lawyers representing property owners in Ortley Beach that would be impacted by the easement. Some property owners have yet to respond to an original letter and a follow up sent out by the township.
Toms River’s council members have been instructed to not discuss the details of the easement letters on the advice of Fitzsimmons. The council attorney also demurred when asked to explain the easements, saying that discussing the letters and the easement in detail would be unethical and could represent a conflict of interest moving forward.
Fitzsimmons did, however, provide the letters sent to Ortley Beach property owners without objection. From the follow up letter:
Private beaches that granted the easement would be included in the replenishment project. The easement is required by law because the Township is constitutionally prohibited from expending public funds to improve privately-owned properties.
The project has been underway for several weeks and is nearing completion and we have not received your response. This is your final opportunity to have your beach included in the replenishment project…otherwise your property will be omitted from the project and you will have to replenish your dune at your own expense, which likely will be substantial.
Dune replenishment began on Ortley Beach in November shortly after the township accepted a $1.3 million bid from Earle Asphalt Company. Toms River Engineer Bob Chankalian said dune replenishment on public property has been completed with the township now considering augmenting the tidal shelf to prevent the new dunes from being washed away.
Toms River is also one of several towns hoping to have the Army Corps of Engineers provide an assessment of the beachfront and contribute to new methods of storm protection in the months ahead. To do so, however, requires towns to submit applications and, in a sense, get in line for the Corps services. All of the townships dunes must have been replaced at the time of the application, making replenishment a time-sensitive issue.