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Beach Replenishment Update- Jury rules $300 for last easement

Information courtesy of the APP:

An Ocean County jury has awarded a Harvey Cedars couple a mere $300 for a beach replenishment and dune easement at their oceanfront home.

It is a decision that state officials say affirms an earlier case out of the Long Beach Island resort community that found the storm protection benefit to those individual owners outweighs their claims to loss of ocean views and other values.

In a four-day trial in Toms River, Harvey Cedars residents Victor and Carolyn Groisser argued an easement that borough officials obtained through eminent domain was worth about $200,000 — and that they were justified in seeking more than $600,000 in damages.

But jurors sitting with Superior Court Judge David Millard decided Friday that under standards set in the first Harvey Cedars case, the $600,000 claim was really worth just $300, acting state Attorney General John J. Hoffman said in announcing the verdict Monday. He called it “an important legal win for the state’s beachfront protection efforts.”

The decision adds momentum to the state’s campaign to obtain oceanfront property easements so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can proceed with widening beaches and building engineered dunes to protect beach towns from storm waves. The state Department of Environmental Protection sided with Harvey Cedars in the Groisser case, and in recent months the DEP saw other holdouts agrees to easements — notably Ocean Beach and other cottage colonies in Toms River, where township officials mediated a settlement.

But other holdouts remain — notably in Bay Head, where many residents profess more confidence in their stone sea wall than an engineered dune — and in some Atlantic County neighborhoods that saw less wave damage during superstorm Sandy.

The Harvey Cedars cases come out of the first phase of the Army corps’ Long Beach Island project. Starting in 2005, the borough and DEP began working to prepare for the project and obtain the easements, to guarantee the Army corps access during construction and periodic maintenance of the widened 125-foot beach berm and dune cresting 22 feet above sea level.

Most homeowners signed leases voluntarily, and the borough proceeded with eminent domain lawsuits against the holdouts. Completed in 2010, the project was credited by Mayor Jon Oldham with preventing a wipe out of Harvey Cedars during Sandy, as happened in the great gale of March 1962.

But meanwhile, one high-profile lawsuit brought by Harvey Cedars property owners Harvey and Phyllis Karan went all the way to the state Supreme Court. In that case, the Karans convinced state Superior and Appellate courts of their case, and got a $375,000 jury award.

But in the Supreme Court appeal by Harvey Cedars and the DEP, justices rejected the Karan’s argument that storm protection was a public good for the entire community — like taking private property for a public road. The quantifiable benefits to individual oceanfront homeowners from the storm protection of a new, engineered dune had to be figured into compensation claims, along with perceived negatives such as loss of ocean views, the justices held.

The Karans eventually settled the case for a symbolic $1.

The Groisser case was tried and appealed, and then remanded to the Superior Court in Ocean County after the Karan decision. As a first ruling under the Karan standard for computing easement value, the decision gives the DEP and towns more leverage with resistant property owners. DEP commissioner Bob Martin said: it “will help expedite that process and allow us to better protect our residents and visitors at the Shore.”

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