Will damage awards threaten beach replenishment?
Two juries in Ocean County recently awarded oceanfront homeowners with compensation for easements placed on their properties in connection with beach replenishment. Some have questioned if these awards will negatively affect the continuation of beach replenishment projects.
Any analysis of the effects of these decisions must begin with an understanding of the federal and state constitutional protections of private property that are essential components of our system of government. Simply stated, government cannot use private property for a public purpose, including placing easements on private property, without just compensation. Even the most noble and necessary public purposes do not justify government action that violates this fundamental constitutional protection, a protection that applies equally to the rich and to the poor. Compensation is required in both total and partial takings and must be fair to the property owners and the public.
The Army Corps of Engineers partnered with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on the replenishment projects in New Jersey. The state was responsible for acquiring “perpetual storm damage reduction easements” on oceanfront properties, commonly referred to as a “dune easement.” In two recent cases, Ocean County juries awarded condemnation damages in excess of $250,000 for each property. Will these damage awards threaten the future of beach replenishment?
The replenishment project on the Barnegat barrier island is fully funded and almost complete, other than for possible future maintenance work. The replenishment project will continue to completion and therefore, fear that safety will be imperiled is not at issue.
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