April 25th, 2016 — By — In Articles
Two Judges Approve Use of Eminent Domain for New Jersey Dunes
As we have previously discussed, beachfront property owners in New Jersey are currently in a battle with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection over the department’s efforts to condemn portions of their property for a beach-widening and dune-building project along the New Jersey shore. While the Department of Environmental Protection asserts that the project is necessary to protect the shore from future storms similar to 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, the property owners counter that there are better alternatives available.
They also assert – among other arguments – that the Department of Environmental Protection has refused to offer just compensation for its exercise of eminent domain.
Courts Provide Limited Authorization for Exercise of Eminent Domain
In a setback for some of the property owners, on March 28, 2016, a Superior Court judge in Ocean County ruled that the Department of Environmental Protection has the authority to acquire easements necessary to the project through the power of eminent domain. According to the judge’s ruling, the Department of Environmental Protection, “is authorized under the broad delegation of authority to protect the fragile coastal system to take property for public beach purposes and for shore protection purposes.”
Another Superior Court judge issued a similar ruling in a related case on April 11, 2016.
However, the rulings do not represent a complete loss for the property owners. The rulings only affect two of the numerous cases pending with regard to the proposed project, and the March 28 ruling did not affect plaintiffs in Bay Head and Mantoloking who had argued that a rock wall extended after Hurricane Sandy in 2013 provides greater protection than the proposed new dunes. In addition, attorneys representing the property owners affected by the March 28 decision have said that they are considering an appeal.
While Some Residents Granted Easements for No Compensation or a Nominal Fee, Others are Fighting for Their Rights
Governor Chris Christie began pushing for the project in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, seeking to build protective dunes along New Jersey’s entire 127-mile shoreline. Around that time, many residents granted easements for the project while accepting little or no compensation for the loss of their property rights.
But, according to news reports, a total of 165 residents have refused to give up their rights. These residents are seeking to enforce their right to just compensation, and have disputed the Department of Environmental Protection’s argument that their compensation should be limited due to nature of the project. Specifically, the Department is seeking to rely on a Supreme Court decision which held that the need for a storm protection barrier is an important factor in determining just compensation.
The property owners and their attorneys disagree with the Department of Environmental Protection’s interpretation of that case, and are continuing to fight against what they argue is the department’s unjust attempt to exercise its power of eminent domain. As noted above, this issue is just one of many involved in the ongoing litigation.
Owners’ Counsel of America | Eminent Domain Attorneys for Property Owners Nationwide
Owners’ Counsel of America (OCA) is a network of leading eminent domain attorneys nationwide. If the government is attempting to condemn your property, we encourage you to contact us to schedule a consultation. Call (877) 367-6963 or contact us online to speak with an eminent domain attorney in your state today.