Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on April 25, 2016
Margate’s nearly three-year battle with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection opposing the building of dunes to protect the city from severe storms and hurricanes should come to an end. On April 11, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Julio Mendes ruled that the state’s use of eminent domain to seize beach parcels of property with appropriate compensation to build the dunes is not “arbitrary or capricious.” As of this date, no decision has been made by Margate’s three commissioners on whether to appeal Judge Mendes’ ruling. Hopefully, they will not do so.
Superstorm Sandy hit the New Jersey coast in late October 2012 causing significant devastation to beach towns. In 2013, Governor Chris Christie launched an initiative to build dunes along the entire New Jersey coast to protect life and property from future storms. A vocal group of Margate citizens spoke out against building dunes, arguing in part that Margate’s system of bulkheads is sufficient to protect the city, and that attention should be paid to the flooding which occurs on the bay side of the city caused by high tides during severe storms.
In November 2013, the citizens of Margate voted against the dune project and in another vote a year later, authorized the city Board of Commissioners to take legal action to prevent the dunes from being built.
On Nov. 2, 2015, I wrote an article headlined, “Battle over Margate dunes: City and state leaders need to talk with each other.” In that article, I stated that the effectiveness and costs of both the dune and bulkhead alternatives should be evaluated to help guide the decision on how to proceed. Studies developed by the Army Corps of Engineers comparing the dune versus bulkhead alternatives were introduced into evidence during the trial. Judge Mendes used these studies to help him render his April 11 decision.
Now that the court has spoken, it is time for Margate to cooperate with the New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure the city gets a seat at the table to influence the design of the dunes and most importantly, to address the issue of street drainage that the dunes will create.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a part-time resident of Margate with a summer home on the beach block of Douglas Avenue, the end of which is below the grade of the beach. Currently, to drain the street, the city trenches the beach towards the ocean starting from the scuppers in the bulkhead at the end of the street. About four times a year the trench is re-dug so that storm water can continue to drain from the street. When the dunes are constructed, this method of street drainage will not be possible. Drain pipes from the street that run under the dunes will need to be installed so that storm water can be directed and drained out onto the beach. Periodic trenching still may be needed at the end of the drain pipes, depending on the slope of the beach.
Many of Margate’s beach block streets will face the same drainage issue as Douglas Avenue when the dunes are installed, because these beaches will be raised above their previous height. Since the dunes will cause a drainage issue, the cost of a street drainage system should be part of the dune project cost, including the cost of pumping stations if needed. Environmental permits to pump storm water from the street onto the beach should be granted.
I have been told that the original design of the dunes assumed that Douglas Avenue storm water runoff would collect in a trench between the bulkhead at the end of the street and the dune, and that storm water would percolate into the sand. Water will not percolate through saturated sand. It will puddle and stagnate, drawing flies and mosquitos. This is not a solution to the street drainage issue.
It is time that Margate change from being a legal adversary to a partner with a seat at the table. An appeal of Judge Mendes’ decision will risk Margate’s ability to get what it needs to deal with street drainage and other dune related issues.
Stanley W. Silverman is the founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a writer and speaker, advising C-suite executives about issues and on cultivating a leadership culture within their organizations. Stan is Vice Chairman of the Board of Drexel University and a director of Friends Select School and Faith in the Future. He is the former President and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com