On the Jersey shore as well as in the shore towns of Long Island, robust sand-dune systems proved their worth when Sandy made landfall. It's a lesson New Jersey has learned — but one that the state is finding hard to apply.
The problem? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is willing to build and rebuild beaches and dunes, but they'll only act if every town on the island will cooperate. New Jersey is a home-rule state, where the state government can't dictate land use to the towns. And towns, for their part, have limited power over beachfront homeowners. So the decision comes down to the homeowners, reports the Lehigh Valley Express-Times ("Dunes vs. property rights in post-Sandy New Jersey," by Associated Press).
"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won't begin such projects without signed easements from all the affected oceanfront homeowners that give them permission to access the property for the work," reports the paper. "Most coastal homeowners want the government to build dunes and widen beaches near their homes. Yet some still refuse to give permission for the projects to proceed, citing the loss of precious ocean views and fearing governments could build boardwalks or amusement piers near their homes — something officials stress they have no intention of doing."
In an odd twist, homeowners Harvey and Phyllis Karan are suing the town of Harvey Cedars over a dune the town built against their wishes along the shore in front of their house. The Karans are asking for $375,000 as the price for the loss of their view. The town offered them $300, arguing that the dune provided a benefit of protection that balanced out the loss of their ocean vista.
All this was before Sandy struck. In the storm, the dune saved the Karans' home from destruction. But they still want their money too. The New Jersey Supreme Court will hear the case this year. The lower court's decision can be read here ("Borough of Harvey Cedars v. Karan"): A three-judge appeals panel upheld a trial judge's ruling that the benefit of the dune was to everyone, whereas the cost of the lost view was borne only by the Karans; for that reason, the court said, the town owed compensation to the homeowners. If the New Jersey Supreme Court upholds the ruling, the Karans will get their money. But owners up and down the coast will be confirmed in their resistance to allowing dune construction — and so the general benefit, protection for all the homes and businesses on streets further back from the shore, may never become a reality for some towns.