The Absecon Island town of Margate won an extension Thursday of its restraining order against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s environmental apparatus. A U.S. district judge in Camden also suggested from the bench that Christie should give up efforts at summary seizure of the town’s beaches for his Duneboggle plan. The extension to December 17 makes it less likely that the state will meet its goal of completing contracts and digging up the beaches by January.
Although Christie’s scheme to build a statelong “wall” of dunes along the discontinuous Jersey shore is being challenged up and down the coast, Margate is to date the only municipality that has challenged the project, spurred by a widely popular 2013 ballot measure and a subsequent referendum in November authorizing the city to take the dunebuilders to court.
The town of about 8,400 year-round residents located about two miles south of Atlantic City argues that artificial dunes would ruin its beaches and that a citywide system of bulkheads has prevented catastrophic oceanside damage in all recorded storms, including 2012’s Sandy. Absecon Island has historically been more vulnerable to flooding from its landward bay — a vulnerability made especially clear during Sandy — yet Christie’s remediation plan (which is being imposed along the length of the Jersey Shore, a region that includes both the mainland beaches of the northern coast and the network of barrier islands and marshy bays down south) includes no efforts to beef up bayside protection.
According to observers in the court Thursday, United States district judge Renee Marie Bumb, in addition to extending the restraining order, suggested that Christie’s Department of Environmental Protection would be better off pursuing its efforts to seize Margate’s beaches through standard eminent-domain takings with compensation. Christie has been relying on a series of emergency orders aimed at “recalcitrant” property owners, which have led the DEP to pursue a novel legal theory that it can take control of the property through easements rather than condemnation and seizure, and that it can also seize the land prior to determining and paying fair market value to its owners.
As National Review Online reported in November, the flat town is fighting an uphill battle, but Margate appears to have been on solid legal ground in its Thursday court appearance. The defendants filed a 52-page response shortly before the scheduled hearing. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Amy S. Rosenberg, the state attorney general’s office then requested special permission from the court, arguing that any further delay would interfere with the state’s efforts to “properly protect its citizens from future catastrophes.”