07 January 2013

Public safety vs. Private property rights

After Hurricane Sandy, there was a period of time during which New Jerseyans set aside political and personal differences to better their battered communities. But a story in the Star-Ledger suggests that is waning down in Toms River.

Shortly after the storm (11/18/12), the Star-Ledger's MaryAnn Spoto reported on a fairly clear correlation: areas with healthy coastal dune systems suffered limited damage while those with weak dunes experienced greater damage. Both scientists and politicians acknowledged this relationship, with Spoto offering this notable piece of evidence:

"If you look at the towns that have had engineered beaches, up and down the state, those are the towns whose damage was minimal," Gov. Chris Christie said during a visit to Monmouth County last week. "Other towns that didn’t, the damage was much greater. I think that’s a lesson for us as we move forward." 
 She also singled out one spot as being among the clearest for these issues:

By contrast, the Ortley Beach section of Toms River had the lowest and thinnest dunes — 10 to 12 feet high and less than 50 feet wide — and it sustained the most damage on the coast, Farrell said.
But now (1/5/12) Spoto reports that some Toms River property owners are keeping the municipality from building new post-storm dunes. With just 2 or 3 exceptions, the owners are refusing to sign over an easement along the shorefront, preventing the town from building the protective dunes. Not only does a delay leave open the possibility of new damage from a Nor'Easter, but it might also cause the town to miss its chance at Federal clean up funds.

The complaint, according to the article, isn't that this is an out-of control government taking their private property without justification. Instead, it seems focused on concerns about turning private beach into public. Spoto got this explanation:

Patricia Suriani, a member of one of the homeowners association boards that hasn’t signed, says a majority of the residents voted against giving the easement because they don’t want the private beach open to the public. She said the easement request, seeking the strip of property "in perpetuity," is vague and doesn’t give residents any assurance that they won’t be required to build public bathrooms or a boardwalk.
This isn't the first such case. A few years ago the NY Times Magazine ran a feature on the US Supreme Court case, STOP THE BEACH RENOURISHMENT, INC. v . FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION et al. The story weighed the State's concerns about beach erosion and storm damage against the hypothetical potential for the public beach being used for hot dog carts and spring break parties.

Barry Chalofsky recently suggested that we start evaluating whether some beach communities should be very gradually depopulated. The next few months should bring more conflicts, but it will be especially interesting to see which way the public sentiment goes.

1 comment:

David said...

Interesting Post