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New lawsuit against Margate dune project

New lawsuit against Margate dune project

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MARGATE — Five beachfront homeowners sued to stop a beach replenishment project Thursday, a day before bids were due to be opened on the project.

The suit alleges the project design will force water to pool at street ends and will create health hazards, odors and standing water at homeowners’ doorsteps.

“This is a case about taxpayers looking out for their community as the Christie administration has attempted to impose this project by brute force,” said their attorney, Jordan M. Rand of Dilworth Paxson in Philadelphia, in a written statement.

The city of Margate had sued to stop the project over drainage and other issues, arguing its bulkhead system was all the city needed for storm protection.

But earlier this year, the city decided not to appeal a ruling that allowed the project to move forward.

In September, state and federal officials said the $50 million to $60 million project to create dunes in Longport, Margate and parts of Ventnor and replenish others in Ventnor and Atlantic City would start this fall and be finished sometime next summer.

The lawsuit is not expected to affect the bid opening, but it will be up to a judge whether the project itself will be delayed, said Margate Mayor Michael Becker, who said he heard about the suit Thursday morning.

A state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman declined comment Thursday, as did a spokesman for the state Office of the Attorney General.

“We are very concerned about drainage. It’s been at the top of the list since all this began,” Becker said.

The attorney for the five homeowners also represented the city in its legal bid, Becker said.

The homeowners are Steven Erlbaum, of South Barclay Avenue, Frank Binswanger Jr., of South Iroquois Avenue, John Turchi, of South Sumner Avenue, David Boath, of South Fredericksburg Avenue, and Ron Cohen, of South Argyle Avenue.

The case will go to Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez, who handled the city’s suit and is familiar with the case, Becker said.

Becker said the city’s street ends drain onto the beach, and the Public Works Department has had to dig trenches to the ocean to allow the street water to drain after significant rains.

A dune system would prevent the city from trenching, and the water would pool at the street ends and between the dunes and bulkheads, he said.

He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to lower the beach behind the dunes to allow water to pond there, and the Army Corps believes it will percolate through the sand in 24 hours.

“Our engineers say that’s not the case,” said Becker. “So we are very concerned about drainage.”

He said Margate has been negotiating with the state and Army Corps over how to handle the drainage, as instructed by Mendez in his decision on the city’s suit. But it hasn’t gotten its concerns addressed, said Becker.

The city would like to see the Army Corps install pipes under the dunes from the street ends to the ocean, but the Army Corps was not receptive to that much more expensive approach, Becker said.

“They said they wanted to try the percolation method and were agreeable to come back in a year to see if it would work,” said Becker. But he said the city got nothing in writing promising to address drainage if it didn’t work.

The Army Corps would manage all construction, while the DEP is the nonfederal sponsor.

The dune project will give every town on Absecon Island beachfront protection, an Army Corps spokesman said at a September press conference on the Boardwalk.

The new dune construction is being paid for in full by the federal government, while the replenishment part of the project in Ventnor and Atlantic City will require the typical split of 65 percent from the federal government, about 26 percent from the state and about 9 percent from the local government, Army Corps spokesman Steven Rochette said.

Contact: 609-272-7219 MPost@pressofac.com Twitter @MichelleBPost

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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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