Superstorm Sandy Long Beach Island sand dunes controversy

Superstorm Sandy

Long Beach Island sand dunes protected some homes

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When Superstorm Sandy struck Long Beach Island, N.J., some homes along the waterfront were surprisingly unscathed by flooding. Experts say that is because of dunes that were built 22 feet high.

In the Brant Beach section of Long Beach Island, beachfront homeowners gave the Army Corps of Engineers the OK to build beach protection. Stewart Farrell, a geologist and director of the Coastal Research Center at Stockton College said the dune project worked.

"They were wide enough and high enough to absorb the energy from Hurricane Sandy, at this location they did a fine job of protecting homes as opposed to elsewhere," he said.

But just A few miles down the island in the Holgate section, things look very different.

Vinny Renz's summer home was lifted up and twisted 90 degrees by the storm's surge. The house is located one block from the beach, where there were no reinforced dunes because many of Renz's beachfront neighbors had yet to consent to the dune project.

Despite their apparent effectiveness, not everyone wants the dunes in their backyard.

Some of the beachfront home owners are concerned that by allowing the government to build sand dunes with taxpayer money, the beaches would become public. And then there are concerns about the oceanfront views.

"When that dune is at 22 feet high, you can't see the beach," said Peter Wegener, an attorney representing Harvey and Phyllis Karan, homeowners in the borough of Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island, where dunes were rebuilt in 2010.

He said the dunes have hurt property values, which is why his clients refused to turn over their portion of the beach for the project to begin with.

Instead, Harvey Cedars used eminent domain to seize the land.

"We're not opposed to dunes, never have been," Wegener said. "The point is if everyone else in town benefits from the dunes, they're asking property owners on the beach to be the only ones to pay for it."

As part of the eminent domain action, a jury awarded Wegener's client $375,000 to compensate for lost property value, a judgment that has been upheld by an appeals court and will now be challenged again in state Supreme Court.

It is a legal battle that Long Beach Township Mayor Joe Mancini would like to avoid. So he now plans to enforce a law already on the books that says if a homeowner refuses to allow the Army Corps to do beach reconstruction on their property, they'll have to pay for it themselves.

What do he say to homeowners who say the dunes affect their views and property value?

"Go upstairs, raise the roof," Mancini said. "It's more important to have safety for yourself and your neighbors than views from every floor."

Back in Holgate, Vinny Renz hopes Sandy's impact will make some of his neighbors who have held out reconsider the dunes project.

"We're in the process of deciding what we do here, and some of that depends on what happens with the dunes," he said.

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